Updated 08 March 2014

Jane Goodall shows us how to be 80

The world famous primatologist and UN Ambassador of Peace, going strong in her 80th year, was in Cape Town recently.

Jane Goodall makes one feel ashamed of oneself. Not in a pathetic, sorry-for-myself way, but in a right-it's-high-time-I-pulled-myself-together way.

She's one of those extraordinary octogenarians (she'll be 80 in April) who, in a society terrified of aging, makes having reached this milestone seem, well, cool.

It also makes whinging about not being 20 anymore, and throwing up one's hands at the state of the world instead of doing something about it (as many of us younger adults are wont to do), simply not acceptable.

Goodall has clearly never considered doing anything of the kind. From the time she first made her way to Africa as a young woman (she went, she reminded journalists at a press briefing in Cape Town yesterday, not as a funded degreed scientist, but by waitressing to earn the fare), she doesn't appear to have ever paused, or ever given up.

If Goodall had solely been a primatologist and anthropologist, she would have secured her name in the history of science for her groundbreaking work on chimpanzee behaviour. But her role has expanded to that of one of the world's most revered and enduring champions of the environment.

Since 1991, when she flew over her beloved Gombi Reserve in Tanzania and saw the creeping patches of "completely bare" hills, she has been a tireless environmental activist, not pausing for more than three weeks in any one place in the world.

Still now at her advanced age, she travels 300 days a year. She does it, she says jokingly, because she has her stuffed monkey, "Mr H" as her constant travelling companion, and also by being "obstinate" and "taking one day at a time".

"I don't want to hear about what's planned for my schedule tomorrow - I always say, let me focus on today."

Dr Goodall gave the Vice-Chancellor’s 2014 Open Lecture, hosted by the University of Cape Town. The talk was titled “The Life and Times of Dr Jane Goodall – in celebration of her 80th year”.

Read more: Are you scared of old people?

Olivia Rose-Innes is Health24’s EnviroHealth Editor. Read more of her columns and articles or post a question to her expert forum.


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