Birth: January 16, 1932
Death: December 26, 1985
Detailed studies of mountain gorillas
Founder of Karisoke Research Center
Author of Gorillas in the Mist
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
In December 1966 Dian Fossey arrived in Africa to begin her long term study of the mountain gorilla, in a similar style to leading primatologist Jane Goodall after spending time learning about Goodall’s research methods. Located in the Virunga Mountains on the slopes of Mt. Mikeno, Fossey’s first camp allowed her to study with three groups of mountain gorillas starting early the next year. She learned how to interact with the groups by imitating their behavior and kept detailed records of her observations.
Due to unrest in the area Fossey was forced to move her camp to the Rwandan side of the Virungas and in 1967 she founded the Karisoke Research Center, the name a combination of the names of the two mountains at either end of the camp. At Karisoke, Dian came to depend on the gorillas’ natural curiosity in order to be able to interact with and study the groups. Through her methods, she partially habituated four groups in 1968 and was able to study these groups for many years.
Fossey was a strong opponent to both poaching and wild-life tourism and fought both in the areas around the research center taking it upon herself to help protect the gorillas in the area from poachers, going so far as destroying poachers traps and patrolling the area in a way that she described as “active conservation”.
Moving to Ithaca, New York in 1980 to teach at Cornell, Fossey also began writing her book Gorillas in the Mist which was published in 1983, and chronicles her life including her time spent with the mountain gorillas at the research center. Only a few weeks after returning to Rwanda in 1985, Fossey’s work and life were cut short, when she was murdered in her cabin at Karisoke. It is speculated that her murder was a result of her conservation and anti-poaching efforts. The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, a group dedicated to the conservation, protection and study of gorillas and their habitats in Africa has continued Fossey’s work after her passing.
Written by Angela Goad