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Jane Goodall, primatologist and frequent flyer

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 10, 2014 at 8:11 am •  Published: February 10, 2014

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Jane Goodall, who turns 80 this year, knows how to work a crowd.

In a packed auditorium, the elegant primatologist from Britain whooped like the chimpanzees she first studied in Tanzania in the early 1960s. She hugged an academic just like, she said, chimps do. She talked about her crush, as a "romantic little 10-year-old," on Tarzan, the fictional figure raised by apes.

"What did he do? He married the wrong Jane," Goodall lamented to laughter on Friday at the University of the Witwatersrand, whose officials wished her a happy birthday. Her birthday is actually April 3, and Goodall said she was perplexed by the hoopla.

Goodall, a protege of anthropologist Louis Leakey, documented the relationships and other behavioral patterns of chimpanzees, finding parallels with human conduct that spurred debate about evolution. Now she is an environmental activist, traveling 300 days a year to speak for those species, as one admirer put it, "who cannot speak."

The woman who said she got "depressed" in the early days of research, when chimpanzees vanished into the forest at her approach, is also part of popular culture. The United Nations designated her a peace messenger. Goodall's character has popped up in television parodies. A celebrated photograph shows a chimpanzee reaching out to her in a kind of "E.T." moment, reminiscent of the finger touch between alien and child in the science-fiction movie.

"There's no really sharp line dividing us from the rest of the animal kingdom," Goodall said in an hour-long speech that was part autobiography, part save the planet. She acknowledged that chimpanzees don't gather in auditoriums, send robots to Mars and communicate with words.

Creatures can be sneaky, though. One of Goodall's favorite stories is about an aquarium where fish were disappearing after closing time. A camera was set up to get to the bottom of the mystery. It turned out that an octopus was walking across the floor to other fish tanks for a meal, then innocently returning to its own tank by morning.

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