Dian Fossey - Remembering the brain behind Gorilla groups study in Rwanda

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Dian Fossey – Remembering the brain behind Gorilla groups study in Rwanda

January 16, 2014
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Mostly known for her extensive study of Gorilla groups in Rwanda, the American zoologist (Dian Fossey) had a strong love for the jungle. Though had little knowledge about the gorillas, Dian was adventurous and in 1960, she made her first journey to Africa. She had a passion of finding out the various types of apes and the different gorilla families in the world. This won her international attention and many tourists were encouraged to travel and look at the hard-to see creatures.

Dian Fossey had a strong love for the jungle and this explains why many African poachers who used to kill the gorillas for money hated her so much. She frequently spared time for the jungle simply to look at the mountain gorillas and her ambitions grew stronger each day that passed. She later teamed up with the National Geographic Society but on condition that she maintains her control over the Rwanda Research center which she had set up.

She had a weak relationship with the American ambassadors in Africa who kept on telling her to make a return to America. This was because of her growing relationship with the Rwandan government, its tourism office and its parks supervisors. This growing relationship instilled confidence in her work and she kept on discovering more and more about the gorillas

It was in 1985 that Dian was found hacked to death. A Rwandan court convicted 2 men in the case but they were later dismissed by the international authorities with an argument that there was nothing more than convenient foils propped up by Rwandan government.

How she ended up in Africa
Fossey had the love of Africa and she always wished to visit but due to lack of enough funds, she had to turn down an offer to join her friends who were on an African Safari. It was in 1963 that she borrowed $8,000 and went on a 7-week safari to Africa. She started her safari in Nairobi Kenya where she met William Holden, an actor. William introduced her to her safari guide, John Alexander, who guided her for 7 weeks through Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. She visited various sites in Africa including; Tsavo (Africa’s largest national Park), Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro crater, Tanzania’s Olduvai George, Mt. Mikeno in Congo.

In 1967, Dian Fossey founded Karisoke Research Center, a rainforest camp nestled in Ruhengiri province in the Volcanoes. She decided to use “Kari” as the first letters of the research centre got from the first 4 letters of Mt. Karisimbi (overlooked the south of the camp), and the last 4 letters were got from the 4 letters of Mt. Visoke, the slopes that were directly behind the camp. She used this research centre to carry out her research on the mountain gorillas. Her long stay in the wild led to her nickname by the local people, Nyirimachabelli meaning “the woman who lives in the mountain alone”.

The Gorillas in Karisoke area had never seen such a kind human being as they were used to poachers who could kill them unlike those from Congo. This is the reason why it took Fossy a long time to establish a relationship with the gorillas at Karisoke and she found it hard to study them at a close distance.

Though the research centre had improved greatly, there was a problem of weather due to the presence of the dark, cold and extremely muddy conditions around the place and on the slopes of the Virunga Volcanoes. This scared away some research students and the center experienced a reduction in the number of visitors.

Her strong opposition to tourism
Basing on her research, Dian opposed tourism arguing that gorillas are very susceptible to diseases by humans. Some of the diseases she suggested included flu which the gorillas have no immunity. She made a research that several gorillas die after acquiring diseases from tourists and on several occasions, she was forced to report to authorities. She also pointed out that tourism is interference to the gorillas’ natural behavior. She also criticized tourism programmes that interfered with her research work.