First Person Singular
I apparently was watching animals before I could even talk. I just loved any kind of animal. I was always rescuing little injured animals that I'd find, trying to make them well. My mother supported all of my love of animals. She helped me find the books I wanted to read, and it was always books about animals. I wanted to go to Africa since the age of 10 or 11. I made the vow that I would grow up, go to Africa, live with animals and write books about them.
When I got [to Africa], I went to stay with a school friend. I heard about the late Louis Leakey, the famous anthropologist/paleontologist. I went to see him. He was very impressed, I think, with how much I knew about animals, even though I had just arrived from England and had no degree of any sort. He gave me a job. First as his assistant -- well, secretary, really -- and then he let me go on a safari to Olduvai Gorge, on the Serengeti Plain.
We finally got money for me to go, which was very difficult because I had no degree. But a wealthy American businessman said, "Okay, here's money for six months. We'll see how she does." And then the authorities, in what was then Tanganyika, refused to take responsibility for this crazy young girl. In the end, they said, "Well, if she brings a companion. ..." So the person who volunteered to come for four of those first six months was my mother. So she stayed in the tent in the camp all day. It was a secondhand army tent. I mean, the tents are so elegant today, but then it was a piece of canvas on the floor and flaps on the bottom. It was hot, which meant the centipedes and the spiders and the snakes could come in. There was no protection against that. The tent leaked if it rained a lot. When I think about it, she was completely remarkable.
[My goal was] learning about chimpanzees. Nobody knew anything about them. They weren't in danger back then. The world was a very different place.
It's our responsibility to push forth and reach into people's hearts and make them responsible for the other animals on this planet. We're part of this animal kingdom.
Interview by Cathy Areu