This is a page devoted to the one I consider to
be the greatest inspiration of my life. She is the
person whose footsteps I hope to someday
follow in, when I get the courage she had. Her
name was Dian Fossey. As far as I'm concerned,
she was the greatest ever! Far more inspirational
than any TV personality. I've been the ultimate
Dian Fossey fan since 1988 and have faithfully
looked up to her since.
To get an idea why I so look up to her, I must
tell her story as I know it. She visited Africa in
1963 because she had just finished reading a
book by George Schaller titled "
The Year of the
Gorilla" and she became fascinated by the
secretive and endangered mountain gorillas. She
never got along as well with people as she did
with animals, and she liked the idea of living in
One of the last pictures taken of
Dian Fossey when she was 53
years old. Photo taken by
Yann-Arthus Bertrand and Peter
Arnold. Presented in LIFE
called "the Digit Fund"; now called the Dian Fossey Mountain Gorilla Fund. It is
devoted to saving the mountain gorilla species from extinction. She took in
donations and worked aggressively to keep the park protected.
Some say in this period she went too far in her conservation efforts. She would
torture the poachers, burn their houses down, shoot at their cattle, so it was said. The
National Geographic Society believed she needed a break from conservation and
studies, so they felt she should come down off the mountain. Dian took a break and
a teaching job at Cornell University in 1980. It was here that she began working on
her own book, "
Gorillas in the Mist". Her work was completed and published in
1983 and available in several languages. It has become known as the greatest book
ever written on the subject of gorillas.
In 1985, Dian Fossey returned to her home land, the Virunga mountains. She was
weary and quite sick. Years of smoking had taken a toll on her breathing and she
needed the use of an oxygen tank to go up and down the mountain. She rarely visited
her gorilla friends anymore because of her declining health. But she never let her
health stand in the way of running her conservation camp. She continued to send her
army out to destroy traps and collect snares, and she still persecuted poachers to the
fullest extent of the law, and beyond, some say. She seemed to be much more
aggressive than ever.
In December 1985, Dian was overjoyed when she was given a 2-year work visa,
instead of the usual 6-month visa. However, just as she was heading to her cabin
from spending a day getting her work visa, she noticed a suspicious and very sinister
figure on her doorstep. It was a wooden carving of a puff adder. Dian took these
things very seriously and became scared. It was another form of
sumu, what the
Rwandese tribes use to place a curse on someone, and this was the harbinger of
death. Though she was scared inside, she brushed it off in front of her collegues.
Around Christmas morning, Dian's tracker was on his way into Dian's house. As he
stepped inside, he noticed everything was in a shambles. Drawers were taken out of
the bureau, things were thrown around everywhere, furniture was upturned and
thrown about carelessly. In her bedroom, he noticed a terrifying and very sad sight,
Dian Fossey was murdered. She was lying on the floor on her back, her face had been
crushed open by an unknown assailant weilding a machete, or woodcutter's knife. A
sad end to a life filled with excitement, passion and disappointment in many cases.
She was buried in the gorilla cemetary behind her house, where she had also buried
several gorilla friends, including Digit, whom she would now lie against.
Even after her death, people were still bad-mouthing Dian Fossey, even some of those
whom she had taken under her wing. They say she was a rotten, horrible person
whose fate was inevitable. Those who loved her and had a chance to get close to her
say those are extremely exaggerated accusations and I'm along with them. Dian
Fossey was passionate about her conservation efforts...yes! This can be mistaken by
the ignorant and inexperienced as someone who is hateful. It's no different really
than how I protect my breed, chihuahuas, in my breeding program.
Like Dian Fossey, I started with little to no experience, and learned as I went along.
Like her, I try to do the right thing in preserving my breed, sometimes aggressively
whenever neccessary. Like her, I am highly against anyone who is trying to ruin the
breed I love. Also like her, my passion and actions has earned me many enemies,
particularly among those who prefer the puppymilling and backyard breeding route
and those who choose to support them. However, it may be worth it if I can just
prevent one more backyard breeder or puppymiller from doing what they do. I look
up to Dian fossey with the utmost pride and admiration. To do the things she did the
way she did it, takes a lot of guts. This is something I hope to learn in my own quest.
She left with us her legacy to continue the species of the mountain gorilla, and I help
out as much as I can, as I'd hate to think that Dian Fossey would have ever died in
When she arrived in Africa, she met Dr. Louis Leaky. Leaky was fascinated by this
tall, very beautiful American woman and showed her around his camp. They had
conversed about Dian going to see the mountain gorillas and possibly studying them.
Leaky was something of a jokester and told her if she really wanted to study the
gorillas, she would have to have her appendix taken out. Dian thought he was serious
and when she went back home, that was exactly what she did. A week or so after her
operation, Leaky wrote to her saying that he was only kidding about having her
appendix taken out, but that it proved to him how serious she was. It wasn't until
1966 that Leaky was able to get Dian the funding she would need to return to
Rwanda, a small, overpopulated country in central Africa, to conduct a long-term
study of the mountain gorillas.
Her first camp was set up in the Congo, but due to a civil war that was going on at
that time, Dian was forced out of the country. It was at this time she met Rosamond
Carr, who would soon become a very dear friend of her's. At first Dian wanted to
conduct her studies on Mrs. Carr's plantation. She was a very determined woman,
and very strong.
Afterwords, she would establish a new camp in Rwanda, right between 2 dormant
volcanoes Karisimbi and Visoke. She combined the two names to come up with the
name for her new camp base, "Karisoke". She began work almost immediately
collecting new data and research.
She wrote 2 articles for National Georaphic magazine. One in January of 1970, and
the other in October of 1971. In 1970, she told the tale of how she rescued 2 baby
orphan gorillas, which she named Coco and Pucker. They had been swiped by
poachers from their parents to sell to the Cologne Zoo in Germany, but they were
not the healthiest specimens, so Dian offered to nurse them back to health. During
this time she learned how to "talk" like a gorilla. That is, she learned the languages
they use to communicate with each other. One of the most commonly-used
vocalizations she found they use is a pig-grunt, usually given while feeding.
Dian never fed the gorillas anything, or coaxed them in any way. But in 1970, she
was actually accepted by the gorillas for the first time when Peanuts, a young
blackback at that time, held hands with her. Dian was so filled with joy it brought
tears to her eyes. It was the first ever human to gorilla physical contact ever made,
and a huge accomplishment on Dian Fossey's part. Needless to say I'm sure now she
felt she was doing things right.
Early 1978, Dian had the biggest heartbreak of her career, when Digit, a beloved
friend and her closest field companion, was speared and hacked to death by
poachers. What the poacher's motives were is unknown, but some feel they were
trying to "get even" with Dian Fossey, as she was disliked among poachers and cattle
heardsmen. This was the saddest break Dian Fossey would ever know. With Digit's
death, the already imperiled mountain gorilla's population was now down to 350
animals. But it was also due to this cause that Dian Fossey established what she
Dian Fossey rather early in her
career. This picture appeared
in the 1970 issue of National
Geographic with Dian's story
about Coco and Pucker. Photo
taken by Alan Root.