The Washington Post

By: Erin Blakemore

November 23, 2019

Primatologist Jane Goodall watches the chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania. (Michael Nichols/National Geographic)

David Greybeard was a chimpanzee, but he was also a fisherman. The primate pulled the leaves off a twig and used it to gather termites from a tunnel, feasting on the bugs after they hopped on.

Jane Goodall watched the meal closely. Could the chimp really be making and using tools?

He was. The behavior challenged the assumption that human beings were the only animals to make or use tools — and struck a blow against the idea of human superiority. When Goodall sent her findings to her mentor, paleontologist Louis Leakey, he responded via cable:

“Now we must redefine tool, redefine Man or accept chimpanzees as human.”

At the time, Goodall was an unknown 26-year-old. She didn’t have any scientific experience; she had never attended college — although she eventually pursued a PhD. But she would go on to become one of the most honored scientists of her day, and change the way scientists think of animal behavior and even humanity along the way.

“Becoming Jane: The Evolution of Dr. Jane Goodall,” at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, tells the 60-year story of that scientific journey. It’s packed with immersive experiences that thrust visitors into life at Gombe Stream National Park in what is now Tanzania.

With such features as a replica of Goodall’s research tent, augmented reality activities and a hologram-like projection of Goodall, the exhibition was designed to put visitors in the scientist’s shoes.

Those shoes are formidable. At first, scientists derided her work, brushing her off and claiming she was not objective enough. But over time, she revolutionized fieldwork and made more groundbreaking discoveries about chimpanzees, documenting their daily lives, their family relationships and their capacity for deep emotion.

It turns out that chimpanzees use objects in nine different ways, from cleaning themselves to defending their turf.

After years of seclusion with her beloved chimps, Goodall became an activist whose causes include conservation, animal protection and gender equality. The exhibition explores her causes, too, and asks visitors to make a sustainability pledge.

The exhibition is a reminder about how Goodall gave humans new ways to understand themselves and the world. “Becoming Jane” runs through summer 2020.