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Dian Fossey

Dian Fossey, January 16,1932 –December 26,1985 was an American primatologist and conservationist known for undertaking a detailed study of mountain gorillas’ groups from 1966 until her murder in 1985. She could study them daily in the mountain forests of Rwanda, actually encouraged to work there by paleoanthropologist louis Leakey. Gorillas in the mist, a book which came to public two years before her death, her account of her scientific study of Gorillas at karisoke Research center and prior career. It was converted into a 1988 film of the same name.

Fossey was a leading primatologist, and a member of the trimates, a group of female scientists signed up by Leakey to examine great apes in their natural environments, along with jane Goodall who studied chimpanzees, and Birute Galdikas, who studied orangutans.

Fossey spent 20 years in Rwanda, where she up holded conservation efforts and powerly she fought poaching and tourism in wildlife habitats, also made many people to accept the intelligence of Gorillas. Following the murdering of a gorilla and consequent tensions, she was killed in her room at a remote camp in Rwanda in December 1985. Despite the fact that Fossey’s American research assistant was sentenced in absentia, there is no consensus as to who murdered her.

Her research and conservation work helped in decreasing the descending population trend in mountain gorillas. However, Fossey was born in sanfrancisco, California, the daughter of Hazel, a fashion model and George Edward Fossey III, Areal state agent and business owner. Her parents divorced when she was six years. Her mother got married to another person the following year a businessman called Richard price who mistreated her and never took her as his daughter, her mother got depressed and lost all the contacts of her father.

Richard price offered Fossey small to no emotional support. Inspite the fact that, by 1950, Ricard and Hazel transferred with dian to Marin county the same county where her father George Fossey lived.

Fighting with personal insecurity, Fossey turned to animals as a way to gain approval. Her love for animals started with her first pet goldfish and continued for all her entire life. When she was six years old, she began riding horses, receiving a little from school, close by her graduation in 1954, she had named herself as an equestrienne (horseback Rider).

Fossey went to Lowell high school. Following the instruction of her step father, she applied for a business course at the college of Marin in sanfrancisco. however, staying in Montana at the age 19 increased her love for animals, and she applied in a pre-veterinary course in biology at the university of California, Davis. In position of her stepfather’s wishes for her to attend a business school, Fossey chose to spend her life working with animals. However, Fossey’s parents refused to support her financially throughout her Adult life. She supported herself through working as a record keeper at a white front department store, doing other routine administrative duties and laboratory work in laboring as a machinist at a factory.

Whereas fossey was always a perfect student though she had difficulties in sciences including chemistry and physics thus failing her second year of the program. She then transferred to san Jose state college, where she became a member of kappa Alpha Theta sorority, to study occupational therapy, holding her bachelor’s degree in 1954. Following her college major, Fossey began a career in occupational therapy. She trained in different hospitals in California and worked with tuberculosis patients. Fossey was originally a super equestrian, which took her to Kentucky in 1955, after one year later she was given a job as occupational therapist at the kosair crippled children’s hospital in Louisville. However, her fearful and silent characters permitted her to work well with the children at the health center. She also became close to her workmate Mary white “Gaynee” Henry, secretary to the hospital’s chief administrator and the wife to one of the Doctors, Micheal J. Henry. The Henry’s called Fossey to join them on their family farm, where she worked with livestock every day and encountered an inclusive family atmosphere that she missed in her entire life. Whenever she was free she would pursue her love of horses.

Fossey disapproved an offer to join the Henry’s on an African tour because of insufficient funds, then in 1963 she borrowed $8,000 on her one-year salary, took out her life savings and went on a seven week visit to Africa. In September 1963, she arrived in Nairobi, Kenya. She met actor William Holden when she was there, the owner of Treetops Hotel who introduced her to John Alexander her safari guide, who became her guide for the next seven weeks in Kenya, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rhodesia, and Zimbabwe. However, alexander’s safaris included visits to Tsavo, Africa’s largest national park, the saline lake of manyara commonly known for attracting giant flocks of flamingos and the Ngorongoro crater, well known for its plentiful wildlife. The final cites she visited where Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania and Mt Mikeno in Congo. In 1959, American zoologist George Schaller carried out a yearlong study of the mountain gorilla. At olduvai Gorge, Fossey met the Leakey’s when they were surveying the area for hominid fossils. Leakey shared with Fossey about the work of English primatologist Jane Goodall and the use of long-term research on the great apes.

However, Fossey broke her ankle while visiting the Leakey’s, by October 16, she stayed in Walter Baumgartel’s small hotel in Uganda, the travelers Rest. Baumgartel, a supporter of gorilla conservation, who was among the first people to see the importances tourism bring to an area, he also introduced Fossey to Kenyan Wildlife photographers Joan and Alan Root. The couple accepted and allowed her and Alexander to camp behind their camp, during those few days its when Fossey got a chance to experience the wild mountain Gorillas. After her friends in Rhodesia, Fossey went back home Louisville to pay back her loans. She prepared and issued three articles for public in the Courier-Journal newspapers, describing her visit to Africa.

When Leakey appeared in Louisville while on a nationwide lecture tour, Fossey took the magazines explaining about her African trip in The Courier- Journal to show to Leakey, who recalled her as someone who was much interested in mountain gorillas. After three years of her original safari, Leakey proposed that Fossey could undertake a long-term study of gorillas like the same way Jane Goodall did with chimpanzees in Tanzania. Leakey aligned funding for fossey to research more on mountain Gorillas, unfortunately she left the job and moved back to Africa.

Furthermore, after her learning Swahili and examining a class in primatology, it took her eight months to get a visa and funding, she landed in Nairobi in December 1966 with the support of Joan Root and Leakey, Fossey received the necessary provisions and an old canvas- topped land Rover which she named “Lily”. On her way to Congo she visited the Gombe Stream Research Centre to linkup with Goodall and see her research methods with chimpanzees. Escorted by photographer Alan Root, who helped her to acquire work permits for the Virunga Mountains. In early 1967, she started her field study at Kabara in Congo, in the same pasture where Schaller had made his camp seven years earlier. Root told her basic gorilla tracking, and his tracker sanwekwe later assisted in Fossey’s camp. Living in tents on mainly tinned produce, in a month Fossey would hike the mountain once to “lily” and make two-hours’ drive to kikumba village to restock.

However, Fossey recognized three distinct groups in her area of study, but could not get a chance to come close to them. She Gradually found that their actions and sounds assured them, together with the obedient behaviors and eating the local plants. She assigned her success with habituating gorillas to her experience working as an occupational therapist with children with autism. Like George Schaller, fossey depended so much on individual nose prints for identification, originally via drawing and later used the camera.

Whereas Fossey had reached Congo in locally disordered times. Referred to as the Belgian Congo until its independence in June 1960, unrest and rebellion racked the new government until 1965, when lieutenant General Joseph-Desire Mobutu, that time a chief commander in the nation army, snatched control of the country and announced himself as a president for five years during what is now named Congo basis. During the political disruption, a rebellion and war took place in the kivu province. In july9,1967, soldiers reached at the camp to accompany Fossey and her research workers down, and she was slowed down at Rumangabo for two weeks. Fossey gradually ran away through bribery to Walter Baumgartel’s travelers rest hotel in Kisoro where her escort was arrested by the Ugandan military. She was Guided by the Ugandan authorities not to go back to Congo, after meeting Leakey in Nairobi, Fossey accepted him on us Embassy advice to resume her study in Rwanda in Virunga. Fossey had met local American emigrant Rosamond Carr who presented her to Belgian Local Alyette demunck. Demunck had a local knowledge of Rwanda and promised to find Fossey a suitable site for study.

In September 24, 1967, Fossey met the karisoke research Center, a remote rainfall camp nestled in Ruhengeri province in the saddle of two volcanoes. For the research center’s name, Fossey used Kari for the first four letters of Mount Karisimbi that disregarded her camp from the South, and “soke” for the last four letters of mountain Bisoke, the slopes of which arise to the north, immediately behind the camp. She setup 3,000 meters up Mountain Bisoke, the area covered 25km2, the local people knew her as Nyirmachabelli or Nyiramacibiri referred to a Woman who lives alone on the mountain. Unlike The gorillas from the Congo side of the Virunga’s, the karisoke area gorillas were not at all habituated by Schaller’s study and they knew humans as poachers. Fossey spent long to study the karisoke gorillas at a close distance.  She tried to habituate the gorillas by copying their actions. The gorillas later became familiar to her.

Fossey discovered how the female gorillas transfer from group to group over a period of ten years. Gorillas communication, ranks and relations among their groups, rare killing of infants, gorilla diet and how they recycle nutrients. Fossey’s research was financed by the Wilkie foundation and the Leakey Home, with the primary funding from the National Geographic Society. By 1970 she surfaced on the cover of national Geographic magazine which brought very great amount of attention to her work. In 1980, Fossey acquired her PHD at Cambridge University in Uk, and was accepted as the world’s leading authority on the physiology and behavior of mountain gorillas, defining gorillas as being dignified, gentle giants, highly social, individual personalities and strong family relations. She also lectured at Cornell university as a professor in 1981-1983. Her book gorillas in the mist was praised by Nicholas Tinbergen the Dutch ethologist and ornithologist. Actually many research students left after failing to manage the coldness, darkness and muddy around karisoke on the slopes of the Virunga volcanoes.

Considering the death of the Adult gorillas trying to protect their young ones, Fossey employed patrols to destroy poachers’ traps in the karisoke study area. In four months in 1979, the Fossey patrol containing four patrols destroyed 987 poachers’ traps in the research area. Fossey arrested several poachers and prevented the two young gorillas, Coco and pucker by exporting them from Rwanda to the zoo in cologne Germany. Later she discovered sad news that one of the MT gorilla was killed. There after little gorillas were given to her by the park conservator for medication.

Fossey had her favorite gorilla called digit in her study groups. Digit was killed in 1978 then that year the silverback of digit’s Group 4, named for Fossey’s Uncle Bert, was shot in the heart while trying to save the son Kweli from being taken by the poachers cooperating with the Rwandan park conservator. Kweli’s mother Macho was killed in the raid, but as a result of Uncle Bert’s intervention, Kweli was not captured; however, three-year-old kweli finally died slowly and painfully of gangrene after being shot by the poachers. Fossey later named Digit killers as the “saddest event in all my years of sharing the daily lives of mountain gorillas.”

Fossey afterwards created the Digit fund named the Dian Fossey Gorilla fund international in US. it was funded to contribute money for anti-poaching patrols, accept donations in light of Digit’s death and increased attention of poaching. The death of gorillas caused Fossey to develop more of her attention to prevent poaching and concentrate less on Scientific publishing and research. She later employed more patrols to protect the gorillas.

In December 27,1985 early morning Fossey was discovered murdered in the bedroom of her cabin. Her dead body was found facing up near the two beds, her research assistant at Karisoke was summoned to the scene by Fossey’s house servant. It was noted that the murders did not take any of her things they only came for her life, all her things were found their including her passports, handguns, thousands of US dollars and traveler’s checks.

However, this tomb of Dian has become a historical landmark in Rwanda and tourists all over the world travel to explore this area.

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