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|Dian Fossey in November 1984|
|Birthday/Birthplace||(1932-01-16)January 16, 1932
San Francisco, California, U.S.
|Deceased||c. December 26, 1985(1985-12-26)
Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
|Cause of death||Murder|
|Resting place||Karisoke Research Center|
|Credit for||Study and conservation of the mountain gorilla|
|Thesis||The behaviour of the mountain gorilla (1976)|
|Doctoral advisor||Robert Hinde|
Dian Fossey’s Biography
He was born in San Francisco in 1932, and graduated in Occupational Therapy at San Jose State College in 1954, spending several years working at a Kentucky hospital. Motivated by the work of George Schaller, a noted American zoologist who devoted himself to the study of gorillas, Fossey traveled to Africa in 1963. There he observed and studied the gorillas of the mountains in their natural habitat and met the British archaeologist Louis Leakey, from who learned the importance of studying the great apes to understand human evolution.
In 1966 she won the support of the National Geographic Society and the Wilkie Foundation to work in Zaire, but soon the country’s complicated political situation would force her to move to Rwanda to continue her research. His patience and meticulous observation of the gorillas allowed him to understand and imitate his behavior, gradually gaining the acceptance of several groups. He learned to recognize the unique characteristics of each individual, coming to have a relationship of trust and affection with them. Karisoke, her place of study, became an international gorilla research center when she founded the Karisoke Research Center in 1967. In 1974, she received a doctorate in Zoology from the University of Cambridge.
In 1983 he published Gorillas in the fog, a book that exposes his observations and his relationship with gorillas in all his years of field studies.
In his 22 years of studying with the gorillas, Fossey faced and fought the activity of poachers who were taking the mountain gorilla species to extinction. This fight created many enemies, and it is suspected that it was the reason for his murder in 1985.
His death, with machetes, was attributed to the head of the poachers of gorillas against whom he fought. In the beginning the poachers were pointed out, but later Wyne McGuire was accused, a young student who was under the advice of Fossey and who was accused of ‘professional jealousy’. McGuire fled to the United States shortly before a Rwandan court accused him of the crime and sentenced him to die shot as soon as he stepped on Rwanda. Nowadays, however, the most widespread theory is that of the murder at the hands of the poachers with the support of the Rwandan authorities.
Their work contributed greatly to the recovery of the gorilla population and to the demystification of their violent behavior.
Fossey was found murdered in the bedroom of her cabin in the mountains of Virunga, Rwanda, on December 26, 1985. The last entry in her diary read:
When you realize the value of life, you worry less about discussing the past, and you focus more on conservation for the future.
Fossey’s skull had been divided by a panga (machete), a tool widely used by poachers, which had confiscated a poacher in previous years and hung as decoration on the wall of his living room next to his bedroom. Fossey was found dead by her bed, with her pistol at her side. She was in the act of loading her weapon, but chose the wrong type of ammunition during the fight. The cabin showed signs of a fight because there were broken glass on the floor and tables, along with other overturned furniture. All of Fossey’s valuables were still in the cabin – two hundred dollars in cash, traveler’s checks, and photographic equipment remained intact. She was 2 meters away from a hole cut in the wall of the cabin on the day of her murder.
Fossey was buried in Karisoke, in a place she herself had built for her dead gorilla friends. She was buried in the gorilla cemetery near Digit and near many gorillas killed by poachers. Memorial services were also held in New York, Washington and California.
Fossey’s will stated that all of his money (including the proceeds from the Gorilla movie in the fog) should go to the Digit Foundation to fund anti-poaching patrols. However his mother, Kitty Price, contested the will and won.
In 1988 the life and work of Fossey was portrayed in the movie Gorillas in the fog (Gorillas in the Mist), directed by Michael Apted and starring Sigourney Weaver.
More Facts about Dian Fossey
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