Dian Fossey

by Nathalie from San Diego

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"The man who kills the animals today is the man who kills the people who get in his way tomorrow" (Dian Fossey). Dian Fossey was one of the first unconventional primatologists who advocated to bring the plight of the mountain gorillas threat of extinction to the world. She battled poachers, the Rwandan government, and anyone who got in her way without regard to her own well being ("Dian Fossey"). Her life was about saving and preserving the mountain gorilla when nobody else was there for them. She developed a special bond with her ape family as they became the focus of her entire being ("Naden, Corinne J., and Rose Blue"). Dian Fossey's early life was one of solitude and disengagement from her mother after the death of her father. This sad and lonely upbringing was a path to her life of living in solitude with the majestic mountain gorillas. Her patience and love for these animals were rewarded when the gorillas came to see her as not a threat but as a somewhat distant member of their family. The first touch from a gorilla and her subsequent revelations about the societal and familial habits were groundbreaking discoveries in the primatologist world ("Naden, Corinne J., and Rose Blue"). Dian Fossey moved to many different places and experienced many critical events throughout her span of life. She started her life off in San Francisco, California, being raised by her mother and step-father.  She began her college life at UC Davis, only then to flunk out. She eventually enrolled and graduated from San Jose State, and moved to Louisville, in which she met Louis Leakey. Louis Leakey, an anthropologist who preserved and initiated the study of primates, had just assigned Jane Goodall to be one of his "ape girls"  working for chimpanzees ("Dian Fossey"). He eventually offered the same research job to Dian Fossey, only for the mountain gorillas of Rwanda.  This is where the legacy of Dian Fossey began. Although she was at many harsh disadvantages when trying to sustain the gorilla population from unwanted poachers, Fossey was still able to ruthlessly fight back and let the people of Rwanda know that gorillas were worthwhile to preserve.  She selflessly opened the eyes of many, enabling the society at that time to not see them as vicious monsters, but instead as gentle and shy animals ("Love, Brett"). With these many historical achievements, some did not agree with Dian Fossey's vision. And for that reason, Fossey was mercilessly murdered by an unknown  assassin.  There have been many suspicions about the killer of Dian Fossey, such as enraged poachers or disdained co-workers ("Love, Bret").  The mystery has still not been solved.  A hero by definition is a person who is admired for great acts and fine qualities.  However, not all heroes are immediately recognized to be as such.  Heroes often shun the spotlight and simply want to be left alone to their own pursuits. Dian Fossey was one such hero, she didn't ask for fame or world renowned recognition. It was for the future of the mountain gorilla that she made her fight public for the world to see. She realized that if the mountain gorilla was to survive, she needed to be ruthless in her methods to do just that. She devoted her mind, her body and soul to ensure the survival of her gorilla family, even to the detriment of her own health; mentally and physically. Her selfless acts in life continued well after her death to ensure that her mountain gorillas would carry on. The name Dian in Greek mythology is often depicted as a huntress. Dian Fossey, in reality, was not a huntress, but a passionate protector of the mountain gorilla. As Dian Fossey determinedly fought poachers, while passionately caring for the sake of safekeeping, she ended up selflessly devoting her life for the cause of saving the mountain gorillas.
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Throughout Dian Fossey's long term war over the conservation of the mountain gorillas, her determination never faltered from the many setbacks she had to face. Fossey went in search of Dr. Leakey in an attempt to have him help her pursue her dream of studying the mountain gorilla. Leakey knew it was not a life for the faint of heart and so; "To test her determination, Leakey suggested Fossey have her healthy appendix removed as a precaution; she did, and an impressed Leakey appointed her to the post" (Dian Fossey). Dian Fossey's willingness to do whatever it takes to be given the opportunity to study the gorillas is first shown to us with her ready acceptance to part with her appendix. Dian Fossey had a lifelong aspiration in which she would take a leap of faith and determination to follow through. "She spent many years longing to go to Africa and realized that if her dream were to come true, it would be because she took things into her own hands" (Dian Fossey). Dian Fossey knew if she ever wanted her dreams to come true, she could only rely on herself and did not expect help from anyone else. Dian Fossey was not a woman to sit back and wait for things to happen. Instead she rose to the challenges and faced them head on. Starting off on the wrong foot, it seems as if it was a universal sign that Fossey should not continue; "Unfortunately, in her excitement she slipped down a steep slope, fell onto a recently excavated dig and broke her ankle. The upcoming climb that would take Fossey to the mountain gorillas seemed to be at risk, but she would not be discouraged so easily. By her own account, after her fall she was more resolved than ever to get to the gorillas" (Dian Fossey). Fossey was not going to let anything, least of all her own body, get in the way of reaching her dreams of studying the mountain gorilla. She had come so far and so close to reaching her goal that she would not allow herself the luxury of self pity. Fossey faced many obstacles in her journey to the mountain gorilla. Once she was there, the threat to herself and her beloved mountain gorillas instilled in her a fierce determination to fight back. Fossey knew this was a dangerous life and a volatile game. "One morning in July, Fossey found her camp surrounded by armed soldiers. They forced her down the mountain and held her for two weeks. They said it was for her safety, but Fossey wondered if she would ever be released. She bribed the guards into driving her to pick up her Land Rover. She told them all her money was in the car. Once over the border in Uganda, Fossey escaped from her guards. She went to the Travellers' Rest, where she had stayed in 1963" (Naden, Corinne J., and Rose Blue). It was during this time of captivity that years later Fossey began to open up to close friends that she had been repeatedly raped by her captors ("Bédoyère, Camilla De La."). Even when placed in such traumatic situations, Dian Fossey did not back down when the average human would've given up. Fossey connivingly wormed her way out of the guard's reach only to return and continue fighting for the preservation of the mountain gorillas. When African officials tried to prevent her from her controversial methods of protecting the mountain gorilla, she was not to be deterred. Ordinary citizens might have called it quits and gone home, but this only caused Fossey to fight back even more. Fossey soon realized through her census of the gorilla that their numbers were rapidly declining ("Bédoyère, Camilla De La."). She quickly determined that simply observing and researching the mountain gorilla wasn't enough. She needed to do more. "Dian fought both poachers and encroachment by herds of cattle through unorthodox methods, wearing masks to scare poachers, burning snares, spray-painting cattle to discourage herders from bringing them into the park, and, on occasion, taking on poachers directly, forcing confrontation"(Dian Fossey). These types of brazen methods Fossey utilized, angered many of the locals. However, Fossey was not going to be intimidated by anyone, and had pushed hard for everyone to do more for the mountain gorilla. She was not going to do this with niceties and politeness, she wanted things to change now as she knew the risks of these primates becoming extinct was an immediate concern. Fossey's methods brought the predicament of these creatures to the forefront of conservationists and the world. If it weren't for her, the mountain gorilla might have quietly gone extinct.     As Dian Fossey was observing and preserving the gorillas, she became very devoted to her habitual works. It takes a certain, special kind of person to dedicate your life to that of others. "Over the course of the next nineteen years Fossey became one of the world's leading authorities on gorillas, studying their habits and social structure and becoming recognized and accepted by the local gorilla population" (Dian Fossey). Fossey loved her mountain gorilla family, and the Rwandan jungle. She knew there was more to be learned about these beautiful creatures, and more to be shared with the world. Fossey was very patient as her diligent time-consuming work was finally rewarded; "Slowly she put out her hand, palm up. She rested it on the leaves and kept very still. He stared for a while. Then an amazing thing happened. He held out his own huge hand and touched her fingers. It was just for a moment, and then he ran off beating his chest with his hands... The year was 1970. This spot where the first known friendly touch occurred between human and gorilla is called The Place of the Hands" (Naden, Corinne J., and Rose Blue). This historical moment in time is where Dian Fossey makes her first physical contact with a gorilla, in which she began her passionate fight for the gorillas of Rwanda. Fossey knew that the mountain gorilla was not a killing beast, and set out to prove the myth and stories of the so-called dangerous primate was not true. Fossey wanted to be with her mountain gorilla family. "She preferred the company of the apes. Preserving them became her goal and her obsession" (Naden, Corinne J., and Rose Blue). With her distraught home situation from her childhood, it seems as if these mountain gorillas were almost a replacement family to Fossey. Her bond with the gorillas made her all that more emotionally attached when she fought against poachers. Fossey became so focused on her gorilla family that she tended to lose patience with her human counterparts. She knew she was both hated and feared, but she didn't care as long as the gorillas were protected. Fossey felt a need to do more than simply observe the gorillas. "Fossey began to spend her time removing the traps. She burned the poachers' camps and threw away their food. Fossey was becoming a threat. She set up a Digit Fund to raise money to fight the poachers" (Naden, Corinne J., and Rose Blue). Fossey became the protector of the mountain gorilla. After the diabolical murder of her favorite gorilla, Digit, Fossey shared with the world her emotional grief through news outlets. Fossey knew she was hated, and the threats on her life never faltered her dream of living with her beloved gorilla family, until she was brutally murdered in her cabin one night. "Dian Fossey is buried next to her family--not the Fossey family, but the family of the great apes she loved. She rests forever in the Africa of her dreams, near her beloved Digit. Fossey loved the natural splendor and solitude of Rwanda, as she dedicated her life. 'Anywhere you look,' she once said, 'there is beauty'" (Naden, Corinne J., and Rose Blue). Her love for the primate gorilla was stronger than any of that of humankind. She was buried and allowed to finally rest in peace with her "family".  Even in death, Fossey's legacy will always be a part of the mountainous region of the gorillas. Fossey had dedicated her life to the mountain gorilla, and made a promise to do whatever it would take to help them, and preserve them as a species.  
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Dian Fossey was not only determined and passionate, but also obtained the characteristic of being selfless in every act she carried out. She always thought of what was best for others, not even having time to think about herself. Generally, most people seek monetary gains from their employers. But Fossey didn't do this for money or fame. "...Dian used her own funds to help purchase boots, uniforms, and food and provide additional wages to encourage park wardens to be more active in enforcing anti-poaching laws" (Dian Fossey). Fossey was willing to deplete her own savings for the needs of the mountain gorilla. Fossey lived a simple life, not needing monetary things or comforts most people take for granted. Dian Fossey had a unique personality that had a certain draw to helping those in need even before she reached Rwanda to save the mountain gorillas; "During her eleven years at Kosair, Fossey was proud of the work she did in helping disabled children. Most of them were victims of polio, a crippling disease at that time" (Naden, Corinne J., and Rose Blue). Fossey felt a calling to help with those in need even before her pull to Africa. Fossey's early years were spent tending to the needs of young, helpless children. Through her time working with these children, she learned to be patient, a trait well suited to her future research with the mountain gorilla. Gorillas were Dian Fossey's main priority, even if that meant giving up the little pleasure humans need to sustain a balanced life. But Fossey's life was special and unbalanced. "The Christmas of that year contrasted starkly with Dian's successful celebration in 1976,  despite having seen little of Peter Weiss since her return from abroad, Dian accepted his invitation to spend Christmas Day with him. It was not a good time; their romance was clearly over" (Bédoyère, Camilla De La). Fossey was not afforded many opportunities to develop healthy and satisfying relationships.  Her choices were limited and the demands of her lifestyle were not typical.  The men in her life knew her main priority was to the mountain gorilla and she would not be distracted long from her goal of their survival. Fossey had to cope with her life threatening diseases in order to keep working out in Africa.  She selflessly put her health behind the needs of the gorillas. "The New Year got off to damp start.  Dian was suffering from emphysema, and her scarred lungs could not cope with treks through the cold, damp mists that hung in the forest. Before long she was confined to her cabin, battling with another bout of pneumonia, tackling her paperwork and writing drafts of her book, Gorillas in the Mist" (Bédoyère, Camilla De La). Even in failing health, Fossey was ever selfless in continuing her fight for the mountain gorilla even when confined to her bed. Fossey would not leave the mountain, as she felt confident that she would return to her life of research. Fossey's tireless discoveries were all put in selflessly as she was put to a quick stop before she fulfilled the rest of her life, all because she took a stand for what she believed in; "Dian had not been back in Rwanda long when, a few weeks before her 54th birthday, she was murdered. Her body was found in her cabin on the morning of Dec. 27, 1985.  She had been hit twice on the head and face with a machete" (Dian Fossey). Dian Fossey was brutally murdered in her cabin after having spent 18 years observing and fighting for the mountain gorilla. Fossey was fighting a one woman war against everyone she thought was against her efforts to save the mountain gorilla.  She didn't care if everyone hated her, and in this thought, she alienated herself against the very people that she needed support from. Fossey's personality and early training suited her to a life of dedication towards the mountain gorilla. They were first and foremost in her mind, and she gave herself over completely to the preservation of their species. People from all over the world can be inspired by Dian Fossey through her heroism shown on account of her acts of determination, devotion, and selflessness. "Applying the lessons of both Fossey's successes and failures, the nation now looks to the mountain gorilla as a source of national pride and a hopeful symbol of its economic future" (Love, Bret). Although Fossey's methods of saving the mountain gorillas were controversial, her ultimate goal of having them seen for the majestic creatures they are was essentially a success. The people in Africa came to feel admiration for the mountain gorilla due to Fossey's education and discoveries. But no matter what, there will always be people out there willing to kill these creatures for sport. Nobody had thought possible Fossey's work with the gorillas would change the way they were treated and approached by future conservationists. Fossey's priceless contribution to the conservation of the mountain gorilla will live on. Animals from all over the world that are close to extinction are being saved through The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund ("Naden, Corinne J., and Rose Blue"). The memory of Dian Fossey will live on forever as animals from all over the world are being rescued through a fund renamed in commemoration of her. "'When you realize the value of all life, you dwell less on what is past and concentrate on the preservation of the future.' - Gorillas in the Mist" (Dian Fossey).

Works Cited

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"Dian Fossey - Biography." Dian Fossey. Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, n.d. Web. 04 Feb.2016. .

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"Dian Fossey." Newsmakers. Detroit: Gale, 1986. Student Resources in Context. Web. 3 Feb.


Love, Bret. "Dian Fossey's Living Legacy: The Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda." Intelligent

Travel. National Geographic, 30 Dec. 2015. Web. 2 Feb. 2016 .

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The Giant Gorillas (2002): 3. Biography Reference Center. Web. 2 Feb. 2016

Page created on 2/12/2016 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 2/12/2016 12:00:00 AM

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