FORT WORTH -- Jane Goodall walked quietly among dozens of adoring students Monday at Texas Christian University, posing for pictures and signing autographs as teens pushed closer for a word or a glance.
The 76-year-old scientist and conservationist is an unlikely rock star to a generation whose parents were children or not even born when she began her pioneering work with chimpanzees in Tanzania in July 1960.
She came to Fort Worth to promote her global network of youth groups, Roots & Shoots, and to view student presentations by TCU, Fort Worth Country Day School and Horizon Unitarian Universalist Church.
"We're growing the family of man worldwide," she said of the 16,000 Roots & Shoots groups in 126 countries. She lectures 300 days a year to call attention to environmental issues.
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Goodall's landmark observations of chimpanzee populations form the basis of modern primate research and demonstrated that chimps use tools, hunt, eat meat and live near-human lifespans.
A student asked what she thought about the Fort Worth Zoo's new primate exhibit.
"Zoos are getting better," said Goodall, who hadn't seen the new environment, "but the key is making sure that chimpanzees and gorillas have enough to do. They get very bored."
Before her hourlong talk, Goodall inspected the projects.
Students in Country Day's Project Prairie habitat restoration project were visibly thrilled when Goodall asked them to write a résumé of their activities for her current book on the therapeutic value of working with plants.
She praised the Project S.O.S. (Save Our Sharks) group and its shark finning awareness mission, and the Invisible Children Club, which partners with school rebuilding efforts in Uganda.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Country Day student Maura Vestal, 15, said after shaking Goodall's hand. "I've loved animals all of my life, and it's amazing to meet one of your heroes."
Goodall said the decline of the chimpanzee population has been dramatic. A hundred years ago, there were 2 million in the wild; now only about 250,000 live free.
"It's due to human population growth, deforestation, pollution, climate change and poverty," she said. "It was totally different when I started my work. There were forests then all across Africa."
Goodall's message isn't grim, she insisted.
"The question I get asked most often is if I really have hope," she said. "Yes. It's the human brain that gives me hope."
Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657