Dian Fossey

by Sydney from Williamsville

Heroes aren’t heroes because of their tights, muscles, or capes. They’re heroes because of their kind hearts, courageous spirits, and their determination towards achieving goals in life. One hero who fits all of these descriptions is Dian Fossey. She overcame obstacles in her childhood and in her years as an adult. Dian devoted much of her life to the gorillas in the Virunga Mountains of Africa.

Dian Fossey was born on January 16th, 1932 directly into the sorrow of the Great Depression. Her father had a drinking problem, and because of that her parents got a divorce. She had loved animals all her life, which certainly explains much of her later career. Her mother re-married another man. Dian’s mother and stepfather did not support her decisions. They were not fond of the college that she chose to go to. They kicked her out and she was on her own. They didn’t even help her pay the tuitions. Dian Fossey had a lot of trouble with her courses in college, and she failed out of school. However, she did earn a degree in occupational therapy, and became a nurse at children’s hospital. Helping the sick and injured showcased her kind heart which is a common quality of a hero. One of her friends at the hospital had gone to Africa, and Dian Fossey loved every story and picture her friend had to share. That was where she longed to be. Her parent’s refused pay for her travel, so she decided to take a loan, figuring that she could pay back the company by taking pictures, writing articles and selling them to magazines. Her tour guide in Africa then introduced her to Dr. Louis Leakey. Dr. Leakey saw her enthusiasm and love for animals. He gave her the job to study gorillas in the Virunga Mountains to help his wife and him with their project on human evolution. Fossey could not turn down this offer.

Dian became a hero for not only overcoming her rough early life, but also for dealing with many challenges. She studied the gorillas as she should and she grew to love them. She cared for them, nursed them and even became the first human to make contact with a wild mountain gorilla. She named them and looked out for them. It was a good thing she did, because poachers were becoming a HUGE problem. Dian Fossey and her staff at Karisoke, (camp in the Virunga Mountains) were finding snare traps right and left. Dian went beyond her abilities to get poachers away from the gorillas and her camp. Sadly, poachers weren’t Dian’s only problem. She was coming up with a serious medical problem called Tuberculosis, which affects one’s breathing. The fact that she was a smoker didn’t help. It became stronger over time, but eventually it was cured on its own. Poachers were once again causing trouble when one of them killed Dian’s favorite gorilla, Digit. Dian became angry and more serious with the issues that were harming the gorillas like diseases that tourists were bringing. The warnings that she gave them to ward them off were giving her a bad reputation, and she was forced to leave Karisoke.

Unfortunately, more challenges lay ahead. When she returned to Karisoke in 1983, it was a mess. Lights didn’t work, cabins were crashed, and it was filthy beyond description. With her high spirit however, it was fixed in nearly two weeks. She still worked to fight poachers and tourists, but she was becoming more of an angry person instead of the caring, loving, and kind hearted person she was. Maybe the death of her friend Dr. Leaky caused the dramatic change in Fossey’s attitude. Things didn’t get any better though. During the night of December 26th, 1985, she was murdered. Investigations were held, and few suspects were thought of, but to this day it remains a mystery.

Despite her troubles, Dian Fossey had many contributions. After Digit’s death, Fossey created the Digit fund, which raised money for her and money to help Karisoke. Unfortunately, the money was sent to the Rwandan government and not to its original place, in Dian’s wallet. She was losing money fast and had to supply wages for the staff at Karisoke from her own pocket. Fortunately, she was offered a job by a professor at Cornell University in Ithaca. The job was to be a visiting professor, but Fossey became a fine teacher and enjoyed it. Once again, her kind heart came out when she was educating kids about what she loved to do. While she was at Cornell, she worked on her book, Gorillas in the Mist.

A hero as great as Dian couldn’t have lived a life without receiving any awards, honors or recognitions. After her death, Fossey’s book, Gorilla’s in the Mist, was turned into a movie with Sigourney Weaver playing the role of Dian Fossey. The movie version of Dian Fossey’s life won a Golden Globe award for the musical score and Sigourney Weaver’s performance. Dian also received honors such as the opportunity to teach at Cornell University, and her offer to study gorillas for Dr. Louis Leaky. She also worked very hard to earn her degree in occupational therapy in 1954 at San Jose State College. In addition to that, she earned her Ph. D. in zoology in 1976.

Dian developed many character traits throughout her lifetime. She was friendly to the gorillas and all animals in general. She was also friendly to her assistants at Karisoke and the African people there. Her reaction towards the tourists and poachers was only caused because she loved the animals and didn’t want them harmed. She was devoted to the gorillas like no human ever was. She turned down three proposals so her marriage wouldn’t ruin the attention she paid to the gorillas. After teaching at Cornell, even though the staff didn’t want her there, she returned to Karisoke to be with her beloved gorillas. All through her adventurous lifetime of fifty-three years, Dian was determined. She was determined to stop poachers and tourists. She didn’t care that she had a serious disease. Dian was determined to right the wrong that was harming gorillas.

Dian Fossey was a hero with a kind heart, a courageous spirit, a determined mind, and a love for animals. Throughout her life she had an image of a better future for gorillas. As she once said, “When you realize the value of all life, you dwell less on what is past and concentrate more on the preservation of the future”. Although she has been dead for many years, her heroic spirit and love for gorillas lives forever.

Page created on 1/25/2010 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 8/21/2018 6:38:14 PM

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