“This exhibit is to really celebrate Jane,” says Kathryn Keane, director of the National Geographic Museum. “At 85 years old, she still travels 300 days a year doing her advocacy and education work. It just felt like the right time to do this.”
Goodall’s first recorded encounter with a chimp goes way back — before the conservationist could even walk. Growing up in England, Goodall’s favorite childhood toy was a stuffed chimpanzee that she received as a first birthday gift from her father in 1935. Named Jubilee in honor of King George V’s silver jubilee — or 25 years on the throne — the stuffed animal also commemorated the birth of a chimpanzee at the London Zoo that year. It was one of many childhood keepsakes she held on to throughout her adult life. “Jane was always Jane,” says Keane. “She was born with this incredible curiosity, incredible bravery and desire to explore the world that was so obvious, even at such an early age. It seemed predestined for her to do what she did.” Goodall was also a voracious reader who owned an extensive collection of books, including “Tarzan of the Apes” and “The Story of Doctor Dolittle,” both of which are on display here, in addition to photos from her family album.
In July of 1960, Goodall traveled to Gombe to conduct her research, accompanied by her mother, Vanne, and an African cook named Dominic. The study, which was funded by her mentor, Kenyan anthropologist Louis Leakey, would launch her long-spanning career. But getting the opportunity to produce this groundbreaking research meant having to make some serious sacrifices. This facsimile of her campsite shows just how primitive Goodall’s living situation was. Her tent was outfitted with the bare essentials: a couple of small beds, a table, chairs and other small furnishings, in addition to the minimal clothing that she brought with her. Every two to three weeks, Goodall and her mother had to travel more than 10 miles to the nearest town for food and supplies — a chore that Goodall loathed, since it took precious time away from her work.
Toward the back of the museum, “Becoming Jane” really comes to life. It’s here that visitors can sit down at a makeshift campsite and listen to Goodall — or rather, a hologram of her — recount her intrepid life among the chimps in Gombe. As archival footage (taken during Goodall’s expedition) is projected in the background, Goodall’s holographic avatar shares anecdotes, including one about the time when a 4-month-old chimpanzee approached and touched her. “Looking up at me with those big eyes full of wonder, it showed that I was truly accepted,” she says, noting the uncanny similarities between humans and chimpanzees that she discovered during her research.
Explore Gombe in 3-D
“Becoming Jane” goes to great lengths to immerse visitors in Goodall’s journey, and it hits the mark with a 3-D projection of Gombe Stream National Park. Using 360-degree footage shot by videographer Bill Wallauer of the Jane Goodall Institute, the short film is narrated by Goodall as she recalls more of her chimp encounters. “Jane was a huge supporter of the decision to move away from a traditional object-based show and really embrace these new technologies and immersive elements that will allow people to not only learn about her work, but to really live it,” says National Geographic vice president Alan Parente, who oversees the creative side of exhibitions at the museum.
One of the most revealing insights to come out of Goodall’s research was how much nuance there is to chimpanzee emotion. At the “Chimp Chat” station, visitors can try to mimic the sounds of primate vocalizations (while at the same time confusing nearby museumgoers). There are five prompts that encourage visitors to make and record noises such as a booming “food grunt” (which chimps make when they’re enjoying their food) and a “snake wraa” (a sound made when a chimp spots a serpent in the forest). This particular part of the show isn’t for the fainthearted. You’ll need to fully own being out in the open, not in a sound booth, shouting like a chimp for all to hear.
Becoming Jane: The Evolution of Dr. Jane Goodall
Admission: $15; $12 for seniors, students and the military; $10 for ages 5-12; free for members and ages 4 and younger.