Dian Fossey

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Dian Fossey

San Francisco, San Francisco County, California, USA
Death 26 Dec 1985 (aged 53)
Burial Karisoke, Eastern, Rwanda
Memorial ID 7412313 View Source
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Zoologist. Conservationist. Born the daughter of Kitty Kidd and George Fossey, III in San Francisco. At 19, she enrolled in a pre-veterinary biology course at the University of California, Davis, and then studied occupational therapy at the San Jose State College, graduating in 1954. She worked as an occupational therapist in California before taking a job at Kosair Crippled Children's Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky in 1955. In 1963 she traveled to east Africa where she met Louis Leaky and first saw mountain gorillas. In 1966 Leakey persuaded her to return Africa for a long term study of the mountain gorilla in its natural habitat. She then visited Jane Goodall's Gombe Stream Research Centre and observed her research methods. In 1967 she set up the Karisoke Research Centre in the Ruhengeri province, on Mount Bisoke, in Rwanda's Virunga Mountains, one of the last unspoiled habitats of the mountain gorilla. Over the next three years, her observations contributed to a vast improvement in the knowledge of gorilla habits, communication, and social structure. She was considered the world's leading authority on the physiology and behavior of mountain gorillas. She left Africa in 1970 to complete work for her doctorate at Cambridge in England. In 1974 she earned her degree with the completion of her dissertation, “The Behavior of the Mountain Gorilla.” After her return to Rwanda, in 1977, her subject, Digit, a male adolescent gorilla with whom she formed a particularly close bond, was found dead, decapitated and with his hands cut off. She redirected much energy into a campaign to end poaching, often using extreme vigilante techniques. She established the Digit Fund charity for the purpose of financing her anti-poaching campaign. Her efforts made her enemies, however, and she was encouraged to leave Rwanda in 1980 for 18-months at Cornell University where she held a visiting associate professorship. She returned to Africa in 1983 following the publication of her book, “Gorillas in the Mist” which became a best-seller; a film of the same name was released in 1988. She continued her anti-poaching efforts, and helped purchase boots, food, uniforms, and offered additional wages to encourage park keepers in the surrounding Volcanoes National Park in enforcing anti-poaching laws. Between 1983 and 1985, her research area did not lose any gorillas to poachers. On Boxing Day of that year, however, Fossey was herself murdered with a machete blow to the head. Although several people were arrested by Rwandan authorities, no real investigation of the murder ever took place. She was interred beside Digit in the gorilla graveyard she had established. The Digit Fund was renamed Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International after her death. In 1994 “Murders in the Mist: Who Killed Dian Fossey?” by Nick Gordon was published, which presented evidence that incriminated those at the highest levels of Rwanda's government in her murder. In 2001, Rwandan authorities indicated that Protais Zigiranyirazo, who had been the governor of Ruhengeri Province, had ordered her death because she knew too much about the illegal animal trafficking under the control of Rwanda's then ruling elite. He was never charged. She once said, “I have no friends, the more that you learn about the dignity of the gorilla, the more you want to avoid people.”

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Originally Created by: D.K. Foreman
  • Added: 4 May 2003
  • Find a Grave Memorial 7412313
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Dian Fossey (16 Jan 1932–26 Dec 1985), Find a Grave Memorial ID 7412313, citing Gorilla Cemetery at Karisoke Research Station, Karisoke, Eastern, Rwanda ; Maintained by Find a Grave .