Dian Fossey - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: Dian Fossey (/daɪˈæn ˈfɒsi/; January 16, 1932 – c. December 26, 1985) was an American zoologist who undertook an extensive study of gorilla groups over a period of 18 years. She studied them daily in the mountain forests of Rwanda, initially encouraged to work there by famous anthropologist Louis Leakey. Her 1983 book, Gorillas in the Mist, combines her scientific study of the mountain gorilla at Karisoke Research Center with her own personal story. Fossey was murdered in 1985; the case remains open.
Called one of the foremost primatologists in the world while she was alive, Fossey, along with Jane Goodall and Birutė Galdikas, were the so-called Trimates, a group of three prominent researchers on primates (Fossey on gorillas; Goodall on chimpanzees; and Galdikas on orangutans) sent by Leakey to study great apes in their natural environments.
Fossey made discoveries about gorillas including how females transfer from group to group over the decades, gorilla vocalization, hierarchies and social relationships among groups, rare infanticide, gorilla diet, and how gorillas recycle nutrients. Fossey's research was funded by the Wilkie Foundation and the Leakey Home, with primary funding from the National Geographic Society.
The deaths of some of her most studied gorillas caused Fossey to devote more of her attention to preventing poaching and less on scientific publishing and research. Fossey became more intense in protecting the gorillas and began to employ more direct tactics: she and her staff cut animal traps almost as soon as they were set; frightened, captured and humiliated the poachers; held their cattle for ransom; burned their hunting camps and even mats from their houses. Fossey also constantly challenged the local officials to enforce the law and assist her.
While poaching had been illegal in the national park of the Virunga Volcanoes in Rwanda since the 1920s, the law was rarely enforced by park conservators, who were often bribed by poachers and paid a salary less than Fossey's own African staff. On three occasions, Fossey wrote that she witnessed the aftermath of the capture of infant gorillas at the behest of the park conservators for zoos; since gorillas will fight to the death to protect their young, the kidnappings would often result in up to 10 adult gorillas' deaths.
According to Fossey's letters, ORTPN (the Rwandan national park system), the World Wildlife Fund, African Wildlife Foundation, Fauna Preservation Society, the Mountain Gorilla Project and some of her former students tried to wrest control of the Karisoke research center from her for the purpose of tourism, by portraying her as unstable. In her last two years, Fossey claims not to have lost any gorillas to poachers; however, the Mountain Gorilla Project, which was supposed to patrol the Mount Sabyinyo area, tried to cover up gorilla deaths caused by poaching and diseases transmitted through tourists. Nevertheless, these organizations received most of the public donations directed towards gorilla conservation. The public often believed their money would go to Fossey, who was struggling to finance her anti-poaching and bushmeat hunting patrols, while organizations collecting in her name put it into tourism projects and as she put it "to pay the airfare of so-called conservationists who will never go on anti-poaching patrols in their life." Fossey described the differing two philosophies as her own "active conservation" or the international conservation groups' "theoretical conservation."
Six months before her murder, AP East Africa Correspondent Barry Shlachter quoted Fossey in one of her last interviews as saying that she was habituating gorillas only to whites because blacks were the poachers. Fossey was reported to have captured and held Rwandans whom she suspected of poaching and then stripped and beaten them with stinging nettles. This extreme case of Fossey's vengeance triggered real concern from conservationists and Rwandan officials about Fossey’s mental stability and responsibility as a research center director. After her murder, Fossey's National Geographic editor, Mary Smith, told Shlachter that the famed gorilla expert on visits to the United States would "load up on firecrackers, cheap toys and magic tricks as part of her method to mystify the (Africans) -- hold them at bay."
Writing in The Wall Street Journal in 2002, Tunku Varadarajan described Fossey at the end of her life as colourful, controversial, and "a racist alcoholic who regarded her gorillas as better than the African people who lived around them."
Fossey was discovered murdered in the bedroom of her cabin in Virunga Mountains, Rwanda, in late December 1985.
Fossey is buried at Karisoke, in a site that she herself had constructed for her deceased gorilla friends. She was buried in the gorilla graveyard next to Digit, and near many gorillas killed by poachers.
When you realize the value of all life, you dwell less on what is past and concentrate more on the preservation of the future.
A will purporting to be Fossey's bequeathed all of her estate (including the proceeds from the film Gorillas in the Mist) to the Digit Fund to underwrite anti-poaching patrols. Fossey didn’t mention her family in the will, which was unsigned. Her mother, Hazel Fossey Price, challenged the will and was successful. Supreme Court Justice Swartwood threw out the will and awarded the estate to her mother, including about $4.9 million in royalties from a recent book and upcoming movie, stating that the document "was simply a draft of her purported will and not a will at all." Price said she was working on a project to preserve the work their daughter had done for the mountain gorillas in Rwanda, located in eastern central Africa south of Uganda.