~~January 16, 2014~~
Dian Fossey: American zoologist’s 82nd birthday celebrated with Google Doodle
Google has celebrated the 82nd birthday of late American zoologist Dian Fossey with a Doodle on its search page.
The image features a group of gorillas, with one touching Dian Fossey’s hair while she makes notes.
A US zoologist, Fossey studied gorillas living in the mountain forests of Rwanda, Africa, in great depth over a period of 18 years. Her extensive research greatly enriched the scientific community’s understanding of mountain gorillas.
Dian Fossey (January 16, 1932 – 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 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.
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.
Dian Fossey in November 1984 photograph by Yann Arthus-Bertrand
|Born||January 16, 1932
San Francisco, California, USA
|Died||December 26, 1985(1985-12-26) (aged 53)
Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
|Institutions||Karisoke Research Center, Cornell University|
|Alma mater||San Jose State University (B.A., Occupational therapy, 1954)
University of Cambridge (Ph.D., Zoology, 1974)
|Known for||Study and conservation of the mountain gorilla|
|Influences||Jane Goodall, Louis Leakey, George Schaller|
Dian Fossey was born in San Francisco, California to George E. Fossey III, an insurance agent, and Kathryn “Kitty” (Kidd) Fossey, a fashion model. Her father was a US Navy sailor. Her parents divorced when Dian was aged 6. Her mother remarried the following year, to businessman Richard Price. Her father tried to keep in contact, but her mother discouraged it, and all contact was subsequently lost. Dian’s stepfather, Richard Price, never treated Dian as his own child. He would not allow Dian to sit at the dining room table with him or Dian’s mother during dinner meals.
A man adhering to strict discipline, Richard Price offered Dian little to no emotional support. Struggling with personal insecurity, Dian turned to animals as a way to gain acceptance. Her love for animals began with her first pet goldfish and continued throughout her entire life. At age six, she began horse riding, earning a letter from her school; by her graduation in 1954, Fossey had established herself as an equestrienne.
Interest in Africa
Fossey became friends with Mary White “Gaynee” Henry, secretary to the chief administrator at the hospital and wife of one of the doctors, Michael J. Henry. Fossey turned down an offer to join the couple on an African tour due to lack of finances, but in 1963 she borrowed $8,000 (one year’s salary), and went on a seven-week visit to Africa.
In September 1963, she arrived in Nairobi, Kenya. While there, she met actor William Holden, owner of Treetops Hotel, who introduced her to her safari guide, John Alexander. Alexander became her guide for the next seven weeks through Kenya, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Zimbabwe. Alexander’s route included visits to Tsavo, Africa’s largest national park; the saline lake of Manyara, famous for attracting giant flocks of flamingos; and the Ngorongoro Crater, well known for its abundant wildlife. The final two sites for her visit were Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania (the archeological site of Louis and Mary Leakey); and Mt. Mikeno in Congo, where in 1959, American zoologist George Schaller had carried out a yearlong pioneering study of the mountain gorilla. At Olduvai Gorge, Fossey met Leakey and his wife while they were examining the area for hominid fossils.
Leakey talked to Fossey about the work of Jane Goodall and the importance of long-term research of the great apes. Although she had broken her ankle while visiting the Leakeys, by October 16, Fossey was staying in Walter Baumgartel’s small hotel in Uganda, the Travellers Rest. Baumgartel, an advocate of gorilla conservation, was among the first to see the benefits that tourism could bring to the area, and he introduced Fossey to Kenyan wildlife photographers Joan and Alan Root.
The couple agreed to allow Fossey and Alexander to camp behind their own camp, and it was during these few days that Fossey first encountered wild mountain gorillas. After staying with friends in Rhodesia, Fossey returned home to Louisville to repay her loans. She published three articles in The Courier-Journal newspaper, detailing her visit to Africa.
Research in the Congo
When Leakey made an appearance in Louisville while on a nationwide lecture tour, Fossey took the color supplements that had appeared about her African trip in The Courier-Journal to show to Leakey, who remembered her and her interest in mountain gorillas. Three years after the original safari, Leakey suggested that Fossey could undertake a long-term study of the gorillas in the same manner as Jane Goodall had with chimpanzees in Tanzania.
After studying Swahili and auditing a class on primatology (the scientific study of primates) during the eight months it took to get her visa and funding, Fossey arrived in Nairobi in December 1966. With the help of Joan Root and Leakey, Fossey acquired the necessary provisions and an old canvas-topped Land Rover which she named “Lily.” On the way to the Congo, Fossey visited the Gombe Stream Research Centre to meet Goodall and observe her research methods with chimpanzees.
Accompanied by photographer Alan Root, who helped her obtain work permits for the Virunga Mountains, Fossey began her field study at Kabara, in the Congo in early 1967, in the same meadow where Schaller had made his camp seven years earlier. Root taught her basic gorilla tracking, and his tracker Sanwekwe later helped in Fossey’s camp. Living in tents on mainly tinned produce, once a month Fossey would hike down the mountain to “Lily” and make the two-hour drive to the village of Kikumba to restock.
Fossey identified three distinct groups in her study area, but could not get close to them. She eventually found that mimicking their actions and making grunting sounds assured them, together with submissive behaviour and eating of the local celery plant. She later attributed her success with habituating gorillas to her experience working as an occupational therapist with autistic children. Like George Schaller, Fossey relied greatly on individual “noseprints” for identification, initially via sketching and later by camera.
Fossey had arrived in the Congo in locally turbulent times. Known as the Belgian Congo until its independence in June 1960, unrest and rebellion plagued the new government until 1965, when Lieutenant General Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, by then commander-in-chief of the national army, seized control of the country and declared himself president for five years during what is now called the Congo Crisis. During the political upheaval, a rebellion and battles took place in the Kivu Province.
On July 9, 1967, soldiers arrived at the camp to escort Fossey and her research workers down, and she was interned at Rumangabo for two weeks. Fossey eventually escaped through bribery to Walter Baumgärtel’s Travellers Rest Hotel in Kisoro, where her escort was arrested by the Ugandan military. Advised by the Ugandan authorities not to return to Congo, after meeting Leakey in Nairobi, Fossey agreed with him against US Embassy advice to restart her study on the Rwandan side of the Virungas.
In Rwanda, Fossey had met local American expatriate Rosamond Carr, who introduced her to Belgian local Alyette DeMunck; DeMunck had a local’s knowledge of Rwanda and offered to find Fossey a suitable site for study.
Conservation work in Rwanda
On September 24, 1967, Fossey founded the Karisoke Research Center, a remote rainforest 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 Mt. Karisimbi that overlooked her camp from the south, and “soke” for the last four letters of Mt. Visoke, the slopes of which rose to the north, directly behind camp. Established 3,000 metres (9,800 ft) up Mount Visoke, the defined study area covered 25 square kilometres (9.7 sq mi). She became known by locals as Nyirmachabelli, roughly translated as “The woman who lives alone on the mountain.”
Unlike the gorillas from the Congo side of the Virungas, the Karisoke area gorillas had never been partially habituated by Schaller’s study; they knew humans only as poachers, and it took longer for Fossey to be able to study the Karisoke gorillas at a close distance.
Many research students left after not being able to handle the cold, dark, and extremely muddy conditions around Karisoke on the slopes of the Virunga Volcanoes, where paths usually had to be cut through six-foot-tall grass with a machete.
Opposition to poaching
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.
Through the Digit Fund, Fossey financed patrols to destroy poachers’ traps in the Karisoke study area. In four months in 1979, the Fossey patrol consisting of four African staffers destroyed 987 poachers’ traps in the research area’s vicinity. The official Rwandan national park guards, consisting of 24 staffers, did not eradicate any poachers’ traps during the same period. In the eastern portion of the park not patrolled by Fossey, poachers virtually eradicated all the park’s elephants for ivory and killed more than a dozen gorillas.
Dr. Fossey helped in the arrest of several poachers, some of whom served or are serving long prison sentences.
In the early morning of December 27, 1985, Fossey was discovered murdered in the bedroom of her cabin located at the far edge of the camp in the Virunga Mountains, Rwanda. Her body was found face-up near the two beds where she slept, roughly 2 metres (7 ft) away from a hole that her assailant(s) had apparently cut in the wall of the cabin.
Wayne Richard McGuire, Fossey’s last research assistant at Karisoke, was summoned to the scene by Fossey’s house servant and found her bludgeoned to death, reporting that “when I reached down to check her vital signs, I saw her face had been split, diagonally, with one machete blow.”
The cabin was littered with broken glass and overturned furniture, with a 9-mm handgun and ammunition beside her on the floor.Robbery was not believed to be the motive for the crime, as Fossey’s valuables were still in the cabin, including her passport, handguns, and thousands of dollars in U.S. bills and traveler’s checks.
When you realize the value of all life, you dwell less on what is past and concentrate more on the preservation of the future.
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. Memorial services were also held in New York, Washington, and California.
A will purported to be that of Fossey’s stated that all of her money (including proceeds from the film Gorillas in the Mist) should go to the Digit Fund to finance anti-poaching patrols. However, her mother Kitty Price challenged the will and was successful.
On the night of Fossey’s murder, a metal sheeting from her bedroom was removed at the only place of the bedroom where it would not have been obstructed by her furniture, which supports the case that the murder was committed by someone who was familiar with the cabin and her day-to-day activities. The sheeting of her cabin, which was normally securely locked at night, might also have been removed after the murder to make it appear as if the killing was the work of outsiders.
Farley Mowat‘s biography of Fossey, Woman in the Mists (New York, NY: Warner Books, 1987), suggests that it is unlikely that she was killed by poachers. According to Mowat, it is unlikely that a stranger could have entered her cabin by cutting a hole and then going to her living-room to get the panga, giving Fossey time to escape; the number of untouched valuables also makes it unlikely to have been the act of a poor poacher.
According to the book, poachers would have been more likely to kill her in the forest, with little risk to themselves. Mowat hence believes that she was killed by those who viewed her as an impediment to the touristic and financial exploitation of the gorillas.
According to Linda Melvern in her book Conspiracy to Murder, Protais Zigiranyirazo, Préfet of Ruhengeri, animal trader and Rwanda’s ex-president’s brother-in-law, could also have been “implicated in the murder of Dian Fossey in 1985.” Quoting Nick Gordon, author of a book about Fossey’s death, “Another reason why she might have been murdered is that she knew too much about the illegal trafficking by Rwanda’s ruling clique.”
Protais Zigiranyirazo also had strong financial interests in gorilla tourism.
In loving memory of Dian Fossey
~~Dian Fossey short biography~~
Dr. Dian Fossey’s life was marked by many challenges and successes. Fossey, whom Rwandans knew as Nyiramachabelli — “the woman who lives alone on the mountain” — is remembered throughout the world for her heroic struggle to preserve, protect and study the mountain gorilla. As founder of the Digit Fund (later renamed the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International), her firm commitment to wildlife preservation, especially that of the mountain gorilla, resulted in a truly remarkable career that spanned two decades.
~~Dian Fossey’s legacy~~
In 1983, Fossey published Gorillas in the Mist, an account of her life and work at Karisoke™. The book became an international best seller. A movie based on the book was released in 1988. The film, starring Sigourney Weaver as Dian Fossey, achieved great popular success and helped attract public support for Fossey’s work.
Fossey was killed in 1985 in her cabin at Karisoke. The name of the Digit Fund was changed after her death to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. In subsequent years her legacy has grown through the Fossey Fund’s programs, which are dedicated to the conservation and protection of gorillas and their habitats in Africa.
For more information about Dian Fossey’s life, read a slightly more in-depth biography.
Gorillas In The Mist (1988) – Official Trailer
Published on Aug 11, 2013