Dian Fossey

Dian Fossey was born in January 1932 in San Francisco, California and became one of the foremost known primatologists in the world; she dedicated her life to the conservation and study of mountain gorillas in the Virunga Mountains of Africa. Dian Fossey was also a member of Trimates that was formed by Leakey to study apes in their natural environments, each of them was given a task Jane Goodwall studied chimpanzees, Dian Fossey studied mountain gorillas and Birute Galdikas studied Orangutans.

Dian Fossey

Fossey was born to Kathryn Kitty and George E. Fossey III and the parents divorced when she was still very young, she grew up with her step father who used never treated her as his own daughter. She developed the love for animals with her golden pet fish when she was little. Dian Fossey did a business course in college but enrolled in a prevetinary course in biology at the university of California, though she had the love for her course she had a problem with physics and chemistry which made her to fail in her second year, she moved San Jose State College and studied occupational therapy.

Fossey was first invited to Africa by Henry but she could not make it due to financial problems but in 1963 she borrowed $8000 and her life time saving to go in a seven week trip to Africa, she first travelled in Kenya, Rhodesia, Tanzania and Democratic republic of Congo guided by Alexander John.

Dian Fossey met the Kenyan wildlife photographer Alan root and his wife who allowed her to camp behind their own camp, it here that Dian Fossey encountered mountain gorillas after this she went back home to repay her loans and wrote three articles about her visit to Africa. Dian Fossey left her job and relocated to Africa after meeting Leakey who had come to Louisville for a nationwide tour he then suggested to fund Dian Fossey to study mountain gorillas like Jane Goodwall was studying Chimpanzees in Tanzania.

Fossey came back to Africa in 1966 with the help of Leakey and Joan root who gave her the necessary requirements for her work, she also visited Goodwall to study research methods. She began her work in Kabara Congo in 1967. On the 9th of July 1967, there was a political up rise leading to rebellions and battles in Kivu province, soldiers came and picked Dian Fossey with her workers and was interred in Rumangabo for a few weeks. She was advised not to return to Congo and she restarted her study in the Virunga side of Rwanda.

Dian Fossey founded her Karisoke research institute in September 1967 deriving the name from mount Karasimbi and mount Bisoke. Dian Fossey spent most of her time at the mountain tops and later became known as Nyirmachabelli by the locals to mean “The woman who lives alone on the mountain”.

During this time gorilla poaching was illegal but the efforts were not reinforced as Dian Fossey always witnessed the death of gorillas, infants would be captured and their mothers killed the silverbacks would also die trying to defend the group.

In 1979, Dian Fossey financed patrols to destroy poacher’s traps within the park and in within four months 987 poachers traps were destroyed. Fossey also prevented the transfer of two infant gorillas from Rwanda to a zoo in Germany. Dian Fossey strongly opposed poaching but in 1977 on New Year’s Eve her favorite gorilla Digit was killed by poachers. Digit got wounded severely but killed one poacher and their dogs allowing the rest of its group to escape.

The death of her favorite gorilla made her to establish the Digit Fund in order to raise money for anti poaching patrols. Fossey became so intense in protecting mountain gorillas they managed to cut traps as soon as they were set with her team. She even captured and tortured some poachers.

In December 1985, Fossey was brutally murdered in her cabin in the Virunga Mountains, the last entry in her diary read “When you realize the value of life, you dwell less on what is past and concentrate on the preservation of the future”. She was buried at Karisoke near her gorilla friends. Dian Fossey greatly contributed to the conservation of gorilla numbers that were almost extinct at that time.

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