Jane Goodall, who turns 80 this year, knows how to work a crowd.
In a packed auditorium in Johannesburg, South Africa, 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 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.
She is also part of popular culture. The United Nations designated her a peace messenger. 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 movie.
"There's no really sharp line dividing us from the rest of the animal kingdom," Goodall said in an hourlong speech that was part autobiography, part save the planet. But she acknowledged that chimpanzees don't gather in auditoriums, send robots to Mars and communicate with words.
A columnist in News24.com, an online news outlet in South Africa, was impressed, writing that the octogenarian "in a society terrified of aging, makes having reached this milestone seem, well, cool."