Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

First ladies of primatology

8 March 2018

Categories: Homepage News, Primates Campaign News

Born Free's Senior Wildlife Consultant Ian Redmond shares his thoughts on three remarkable women he had the privilege of knowing in the field of Primate Conservation.

"On International Women’s Day, let us consider how three remarkable female scientists changed the way we view the Great Apes, and in so doing, transformed our understanding of ourselves.  

Dubbed the Trimates, Drs Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey (pictured) and Biruté Galdikas have all spent decades in the company of our closest relatives in the animal kingdom -  chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans respectively - deep in their rainforest homes.  The example they set has inspired so many young women to follow in their footsteps that primatology is one of the few sciences where women outnumber men.  

All three also founded organisations to rally support for their study animals and their habitat and all three have changed the course of events that might, without their passion, scientific discoveries and dedication, have seen our zoological next of kin driven even closer to extinction.   

It was the late Dr Louis Leakey, famed Kenyan paleo-anthropologist, who helped all three get started in the 1960s, believing that women made better observers than men, but it was their extraordinary determination that kept them going.  In Jane and Biruté’s case, they continue their distinctive mix of research, advocacy and field conservation.  

Sadly, Dian Fossey is no longer with us, though her work is continued by those she inspired;  thanks to their efforts, building on hers, mountain gorillas are now increasing in number each year - the only kind of ape apart from ourselves for whom that is the case (bearing in mind that they number in the hundreds and live sustainably while we number in the billions and don’t).    We are still struggling to halt the decline in populations of other gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans, indeed of half the species of primates.

At a time when society is re-examining the role of women, these three role models stand out.  Though very different in personality and working in very different parts of the world, they each rose to the occasion whenever they or the species they studied were threatened, overcoming challenges and prejudices that would have defeated most.   As our understanding of the importance of primates and their habitat in maintaining climate stability grows, so should our gratitude for these extraordinary women, and so should the legions of young people who they have inspired."

Ian Redmond

Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906

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