Celebrating our Wildest Women–Mothers!

By Jules Torti | May 3, 2022

“Now don’t get any ideas. I know Jane Goodall had to take her mother to Africa!”

When I shared the news that I was going to volunteer in Uganda with the Jane Goodall Institute, my mom made it as clear as gin that she was not interested in tagging along in safari gear with a butterfly net.

It’s nearly impossible to believe that in 1960, British authorities balked at the proposal of a Jane Goodall living in the wilds of Africa alone. A woman! By herself! Alone? Dr. Jane was only permitted to study her beloved chimpanzees because her mother Vanne agreed to stay with her for the first three months.

With permission from the Jane Goodall Instute

Dr. Jane Goodall with her mother, Vanne Goodall, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Gombe National Park. With permission from the Jane Goodall Institute.


That’s what mothers do–they help ensure that our dreams come true, no matter the sacrifice. And because it was 2008 when I went to Uganda, not 1960, my mom had a free pass.

Mothers instill many things in us, often invisibly. They encourage our whims and trigger our future interests by exposing us to experiences at an early bright-eyed age. They are our mentors, our allies, our best friends, our inspiration to be better.

In April, Dr. Jane celebrated her 88th birthday and the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada held a silent auction in her honor. Of course, Wild Women Expeditions wanted to join the party and donated a 10-day Tanzania Trek + Safari to the mix. An essential component of Wild Women trip planning involves supporting projects where local women (and moms!) are employed and empowered as guides or supported as artisans. In Tanzania, Wild Women spend two remarkable nights at Dunia Camp–the only safari camp in all of Africa run exclusively by women! 

When our team learned that the silent auction’s Tanzania trip winner had an even deeper connection to Jane Goodall, the gorgeous full circle story had to be shared. In a series of excited emails, Nancy Henley expressed the unexpected link and impact that Dr. Jane has had on not only her life, but her daughter Lily’s as well.

“About 10 years ago, we were given front row seats in exchange for our balcony seats by Dr. Jane and her team at the last minute as they noticed I was with my 7-year-old daughter. We were both mesmerized of course but the front row did help! At the end of the night, as Dr. Jane left the stage, my daughter burst into tears and said, “I’m crying because I feel my heart growing.” 

Lily and her genius elementary school project where she recreated Jane Goodall’s Gombe Stream cabin.

Lily and her genius Montessori school project where she recreated Jane Goodall’s Gombe Stream cabin.


Lily and I went on to conduct a Roots & Shoots group together in our Dundas (Ontario) neighbourhood with a focus on protecting our local watershed and its animals. Now my daughter is launching to (hopefully in-person) university and those joyous, independent times that the kids have recently missed and in turn, I am getting a chance to finally be a little wild myself! Needless to say, this all helps the ache in my heart.”

Maggie (16 years) and Nancy, carefully searching for Eastern red-backed salamanders with the Greensville Creek Crew.

Maggie (16 years) and Nancy, carefully searching for Eastern red-backed salamanders with the Greensville Creek Crew.


Nancy’s eldest daughter, Maggie was also  instrumental in their Roots & Shoots initiatives, creating snake search and watershed walk handouts as part of their Greensville Creek Crew watershed stewardship project. Glowing, Nancy said, “as a family we engaged friends and neighbours in the biodiversity of our natural areas and the importance of protecting our provincially significant large coastal wetland (Dundas – Cootes Paradise/Lake Ontario and their watersheds).

Now that’s a beautiful full circle. 

On Mother’s Day we celebrate awesome moms like Nancy who encouraged the young, undaunted spirits of her daughters. We cheerlead Dr. Jane for showing those stuffy Brit authorities that a woman can live in the wilds of Africa and establish the largest scientific knowledge base on chimpanzees, serving primatologists around the world.

To my own precious mother, thank you for the countless trips to the local nature centre, turtle ponds, conservation area trails, Carolinian forest, fossil parks, zoos, museums, aquariums and the dear library. And, especially for that time we too went to see Dr. Jane pant-hoot to the hushed audience at Convocation Hall at the University of Toronto in the nineties.

You just never know where the roots and shoots are going to take hold! We all leave an indelible impact in ways we sometimes aren’t even aware of. Embrace and cheerlead all the young girls, gorgeous wild women and truly wild moms in your life and the natural world today!