By Sriya Reddy
Restless third graders looked up at the screen with mouths open in awe as Jane Goodall recounted her findings on chimpanzees while on Zoom from England.
Roha Khan, 9, stepped up to the podium in the Perot Museum of Nature and Science and asked, “How do chimps use simple things to make tools?”
Goodall explained how chimpanzees take sticks, pick off the leaves, and use them to poke into termite nests to get a snack.
Roha was one of the 72 students from Hamilton Park Pacesetter Magnet Elementary in Dallas and the Richardson school district who had the opportunity Friday to hear from the world’s most famous and arguably most important primatologist and the Perot Museum’s new exhibit about her.
“It felt amazing,” Roha said. “I was a little bit nervous, but a whole lot of excitement.”
The exhibit, “Becoming Jane: The Evolution of Dr. Jane Goodall,” which is open from May 20 to Sept. 5, recounts Goodall’s life from her earliest childhood memories to her work in conservation today. The traveling exhibition was created by National Geographic and the Jane Goodall Institute.
Goodall said her memories were triggered by walking through the exhibit before it came to Dallas. Her copies of Tarzan of the Apes and the Story of Doctor Dolittle, which inspired her to go to Africa and work with animals, were on display. The exhibit was also able to find a recording of her late mother speaking about Goodall’s first scientific observation: How chickens lay eggs.
“Hearing my mother’s voice — that was really kind of a shock because I was not expecting it,” Goodall said.
Next to that was her precious stuffed toy monkey, Jubilee, which her father gave her when she was a child.
“There was a lot of discussion about whether or not that would be part of the exhibition because it’s so precious to Jane,” said Anna Rathman, executive director of the Jane Goodall Institute. “And so the fact that Jubilee is here and we can share it with the Dallas audience and everyone who comes through is very special.”
Farther into the exhibit was a replica of the tent that Goodall lived in with her mother at the beginning of her travels to Tanzania. The tent includes Jane’s handwritten notes, the food and medicine she used, and crates holding their supplies. Her mother joined because Goodall was not allowed to go by herself as a young woman.
Goodall said her actual tent was more grand than what was on display.
“The beds I mean, mum and I didn’t have the beds that you see,” Goodall said. “Our beds were completely different, just little bits of canvas stretched across metal. We didn’t have lovely, polished boxes with our things in them. We had old crates, so it was very much more primitive than you might think from looking at the exhibition.”
Attendees can interact with virtual chimpanzees, listen to a hologram of Goodall speak about her story, and finish the exhibit by signing a pledge to help the environment.
The Perot Museum is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a series of special exhibitions. This exhibit is the fourth in the series.
“Our mission here at the museum is to inspire minds through nature and science and I can’t think of a better ambassador, to kids in particular, about the importance of the environment and following your passions,” said Linda Silver, CEO of the Perot Museum. “She was a young girl, really interested in nature and animals and she followed that dream at a time when it was really not easy to do so.”
Rathman said Goodall’s story is relatable and her continued curiosity is what makes her inspiring.
“Curiosity has been a part of her life throughout her life,” Rathman said. “That’s something that young people never have to grow out of. And Jane has never grown out of it. She’s now 88 years old. And she’s one of the most curious people you’ll ever meet.”
The students who got to visit “Becoming Jane” share that same curiosity as they run from display to display. Many are finding a new love for chimpanzees.
Jazmyn Faustion-Chamu is one of those students. She said she was inspired by Goodall’s words and wants to study chimpanzees too.
“It made me dream that I want to be an explorer just like her and it made me want to copy her footsteps,” Jazmyn said.
“I’m really interested in how they made the exhibit,” she said. “They made it look like I was actually there. It made me feel like I was actually there with her.”
Roha said she loves science and wants to work at the Perot Museum one day. She said she loves chimpanzees, just like Goodall, and learned a lot from the exhibition.
“Today I learned that animals are just like us,” she said.
Goodall said it’s important for children to find a love for nature because the human species has been stealing kids’ futures by destroying the planet. That love and awareness is what she hopes the exhibit will inspire in youngsters.
“It’s very important to let children know that there are other ways of doing things that people are beginning to understand,” Goodall said. “The big corporations are changing. Although not enough, there are more laws protecting animals and the awareness of the problems has grown hugely over the last 10 years. There’s a future but we’ve got to take action.”