Dian Fossey

Dian Fossey’s life with the Mountain Gorillas

Dian Fossey was a leading authority on the study of endangered mountain gorillas in the forests of Rwanda in Virunga volcanoes. One is likely to believe she was both the best and worst thing that happened to the Gorillas of East Africa

Dian Fossey was born in San Francisco, California, on January 16, 1932. She graduated from San Jose State College in 1954 with a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy. Nearly ten years later, in 1963, she decided to take out a bank loan and withdraw her life savings to embark on a journey to Africa.

Much like her fellow researcher and friend Jane Goodall, Fossey is remembered for her study of the social interactions of primates and for conservation efforts. Her research greatly enlarged our understanding of gorillas’ communication methods, habits, and social structures.

Fossey was a very strong advocate for the conservation of endangered gorilla populations. From which she published a book about her work and struggle for conservation in 1983 called Gorillas in the Mist, which was later adapted into a movie starring Sigourney Weaver.

On many occasions,Dian Fossey was invited to write for National Geographic magazine. In her article published in January 1980—called “Making Friends With Mountain Gorillas” Fossey vehemently explained how she was able to achieve her success with gorillas of the virungas:

The textbook instructions for such studies are merely to sit and observe. I wasn’t satisfied with this approach; I felt that the gorillas would be doubly suspicious of any alien object that only sat and stared. Instead, I tried to elicit their confidence and curiosity by acting like a gorilla. I imitated their feeding and grooming, and later, when I was surer what they meant, I copied their vocalizations, including some startling deep belching noises.

Tragically, Fossey was murdered at her research camp on Mount Visoke on December 26, 1985. There is speculation that her murder was related to her efforts to conserve the dwindling gorilla populations in Rwanda. The search for her killers is ongoing, and her research with gorillas continues today through the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.

Much of Fossey’s research was supported by the Leakey Foundation and the National Geographic Society.

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