Dian Fossey Brief Biography

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Dian Fossey was born on 16th January 1932, in San Francisco, California. Her parents divorced when she was still young and she therefore grew up with her mother and her step father. Dian developed love for animals at an early age and at the age of 6 she started horseback riding lessons. She was able to gain a letter on the riding team during her time in high school. At the age of 19, Dian got a chance to work on a ranch in Montana where she fell more in love with the animals but she was later on forced to leave because she had contracted chicken pox.

Dian Fossey later on enrolled for a course at the University of California as a pre-vet student but gave up on the way because of the challenges encountered in some courses of chemistry and physics. She started a degree in occupational therapy at St. Jose State College where she graduated in 1954 and worked with tuberculosis patients at different hospitals in California.

Dian Fossey in Africa

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Dian Fossey’s love for animals forced her to put a lot of effort to travel to Africa after she had been told about the abundant animals of Africa by a friend who had been in Africa on vacation. She did all she could afford to travel to Africa and this dream came to be realized in 1963 when she made her first step on the continent. Among the countries she visited are Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Congo.

While in Africa, Dian Fossey met some of the most impactful people towards her work: Joan and Alan Root who were working on a documentary of African gorillas. They were native wildlife photographers and they considered going with her for a trip where they were searching for primates. This was one of the best moments in her life and her feeling and experience is well explained in the book “Gorillas in the Mist”. Dian had earlier met Louis Leaky and her wife in her earlier days in Africa and he later on invited her for a long-term study about the endangered mountain gorillas of Rwanda. Dian took on the study and ended up living in the DRC with the gorillas but due to civil unrest, she shifted to Rwanda where she continued with the study and research.

Dian Fossey encountered several obstacles during her effort for conservation of these endangered primates but that did not limit her from continuing with her work. She established Karisoke Research Foundation in Volcanoes national park to facilitate the primate study. She did fieldwork in the park while taking on her Ph.D which was based on her research at Cambridge University and graduated in 1976.

To save and conserve the endangered mountain gorillas, Fossey’s work and effort led to establishment of the first dedicated ranger patrols. She also destroyed traps and put down dogs of poachers and rejected the plans of game wardens and government officials who wanted to turn the habitats of the gorillas into farmlands and this created some enemies. On the 26th of December, 1985, Fossey was found brutally killed by poachers and her body was lying at her forest camp in Rwanda. She was buried close to the grave of one of her favorite gorilla friends Digit and it is one of the places you can visit on your African safari to Rwanda. However, it is absurd that no one has ever been found to have a hand in her murder for persecution.

Even after her death, her work continued. She had inspired a number of conservationists who took on the conservation work through the Dian Fossey Gorilla Foundation which is still going up to now.