Dian Fossey, born on January 16th, 1932, in San Francisco, California, was destined to become a remarkable figure in the world of conservation. Raised by her mother and stepfather after her parents’ divorce, Dian’s affinity for animals manifested at a young age. At six, she began horseback riding lessons, eventually earning a place on her high school’s riding team. Her love for animals continued to flourish, leading her to a ranch in Montana at 19. Unfortunately, her time there was cut short due to a bout of chickenpox.
Dian Fossey’s academic journey took her to the University of California as a pre-vet student. However, the challenges posed by chemistry and physics courses led her to shift gears. She pursued a degree in occupational therapy at St. Jose State College, graduating in 1954. Her career led her to work with tuberculosis patients in various California hospitals.
Dian Fossey’s deep-rooted passion compelled her to venture to East Africa, drawn by tales of abundant wildlife. Her dream materialized in 1963, when she set foot on African soil. Exploring countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, she soaked in the diverse landscapes and species.
In Africa, Dian Fossey’s path crossed with Joan and Alan Root, renowned wildlife photographers crafting a documentary on African gorillas. This meeting marked a turning point as they invited her to join their primate search expedition. Her emotional journey is eloquently captured in her book, “Gorillas in the Mist.” Earlier, she had met Louis Leakey, who invited her to study the endangered mountain gorillas of Rwanda.
Dian Fossey embraced this opportunity, initially residing in the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, civil unrest prompted her shift to Rwanda, where she conducted groundbreaking research on mountain gorillas. Despite numerous obstacles, she founded the Karisoke Research Foundation in the Volcanoes National Park. Balancing her fieldwork with pursuing a Ph.D. at Cambridge University, she earned her degree in 1976.
Dian Fossey’s commitment led to the establishment of dedicated ranger patrols and the destruction of traps. She vehemently opposed officials aiming to convert gorilla habitats into farmland. Her courage created adversaries but also inspired many. Tragically, on December 26th, 1985, she was found brutally killed by poachers in her forest camp in Rwanda. She was laid to rest near her beloved gorilla companion, Digit, a site that remains a poignant stop on African adventure safaris in Rwanda.
Dian Fossey’s legacy endures. Her work inspired the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, carried on by conservationists dedicated to preserving her mission. Even in her absence, her impact on gorilla conservation remains profound. To honor her memory and contribution, Trek Africa Tours can help you plan a visit to Dian Fossey’s resting place, a tribute to her enduring dedication to these remarkable creatures and their habitat.