Twenty-five years before Dr. Jane Goodall traveled from England to Africa to study chimpanzees, a chimp at the London Zoo gave birth to a baby. Born the same year as King George’s Silver Jubilee, celebrating the 25th anniversary of his reign, the baby chimpanzee was named Jubilee. Plush chimpanzees were produced to commemorate the birth of Jubilee, and Goodall’s father brought one home for his 1-year-old daughter.
Jubilee the plush animal is just one of many artifacts from Goodall’s childhood on display at a new National Geographic Museum exhibition, “Becoming Jane: The Evolution of Jane Goodall.” When she returned to her family home to retrieve Jubilee for the exhibit, Goodall also brought back the Tarzan and Doctor Doolittle books that, as a young girl, inspired her to want to work with wild animals as well as a handmade doll she received from her mother.
A partnership between the National Geographic Society and the Jane Goodall Institute, “Becoming Jane” is an interactive multimedia exhibition that takes visitors on a journey through the life of the celebrated animal behavior expert, conservationist and activist. Goodall is best known for her behavioral research on chimpanzees and her then-unorthodox approach to field research: She immersed herself in their habit in what is now Gombe, Tanzania.
When it opened at the end of November, visitors were surprised by how such an immersive experience could still feel so personal. That’s because Goodall herself was involved in the project scope, sharing her thoughts not only on what artifacts to display but also on which stories to tell. For example, she was particularly passionate about including a video on animal intelligence featuring Pigcasso the Painting Pig, a South African rescue pig with a knack for landscapes.
The kid-friendly exhibit also includes a replica of Goodall’s research tent, where visitors can explore her supplies and jot down their own observations in a field journal. They can take a virtual reality expedition to Tanzania’s Gombe Stream National Park, learn how to pant-hoot like a chimp in an interactive augmented reality (AR) activity and watch a hologram-like projection of Goodall take a trip down memory lane.
At the end of the exhibition, visitors can pledge to help Goodall in her mission to ensure a more sustainable future by choosing to use less plastic, avoid palm oil or take a nature walk. Each pledge appears as a leaf on an interactive Tree of Hope.
“This exhibition allows us to experience [Goodall’s] amazing life story in a highly personal and powerful way,” says Kathryn Keane, vice president of public programming at the National Geographic Society. “Through immersive media, authentic scenic and interactions, this exhibition takes visitors into the field and around the world with Jane, walking in her shoes and experiencing her powerful message of hope firsthand.”
“Becoming Jane” is open at the National Geographic Museum (1145 17th St. NW, Washington, DC 20036) through the summer of 2020. Tickets cost $15 for adults; $12 for seniors, students and military; and $10 for children ages 5-12.