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Dian Fossey Biography


Dian Fossey was a famous American primatologist and naturalist who is best known for her ground-breaking work with the mountain gorilla and for her violent murder in 1985 in Rwanda.

When was Dian Fossey born?

Born on January 16, 1932 in San Francisco, Dian Fossey became interested in animals when she was young. Her parents had divorced when she was 6.  Hence she grew up with her mother and stepfather who was a rich businessman.

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Where did Dian Fossey receive her education?

After completing high school, she got herself admitted into the University of California. Thereafter she went to San Jose State College to study occupational therapy. After her graduation in 1954, she got employment as an occupational therapist in various hospitals in California. Next year she moved to Louisville, Kentucky, to join as the director of the Kosair Crippled (Children) Hospital in occupational therapy department.

What are Dian Fossey’s works on the mountain gorilla?

However, her love for animals remained undiminished. Her first trip to Africa happened in 1963. During her six-week sabbatical in the Dark Continent, she came in contact with the famous anthropologists Mary Leakey and her husband, Louis Leakey who later became her mentor. The meeting enhanced her desire to study mountain gorillas. She again made a trip to Africa in 1966. She chose the African country of Rawanda to study and live with mountain gorillas. She travelled between Africa and Cambridge University from where she earned her Ph.D. in zoology in 1974.

In 1966, the National Geographic Society funded Fossey for a research program in the Congo. As Congo was engulfed in political turmoil, Fossey moved to Rwanda. On September 24, 1967, she founded the Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda’s Parc National des Volcans which is situated between two volcanoes: Mt. Visoke and Mt. Karisimbi. The name Karisoke came from combining the last four words of Visoke and first four words of Karisimbi.

In 1983, the gorilla researcher Dian Fossey published her story of life and 13 years of work with the mountain gorillas in Rwanda in her autobiographical book Gorillas in the Mist, which was in 1988 adapted for a movie with the same name starring Sigourney Weaver as Dian Fossey.

How was Fossey’s Personal life?

Dian Fossey fell in love with Bob Campbell the National Geographic photographer who had come to photograph her work for National Geographic. However, the affair did not last.

Where did Dian Fossey die and when?

Recognized as the leading authority on the mountain gorillas, Dian Fossey was tragically murdered supposedly by poachers on December 26, 1985 in her cabin at Karisoke. The incident occurred few weeks before her 54th birthday. The crime remains unsolved to this day. She was laid to rest in the graveyard in the rainforests of Volcanoes and her grave is next to that of her beloved mountain gorilla Digit. Digit was also killed by the poachers in 1977. In memory of Digit with whom she developed a friendship, Dian Fossey founded the Digit Fund to protect and preserved the mountain gorilla. After her death in 1985 the name of the Digit Fund was changed to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.




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