Fossey was born in San Francisco, California in 1932.
Her strong interest in animals led her to enter college
as a pre-veterinary student. Soon, however, she switched
to occupational therapy and obtained her degree from
San Jose State College.
friends, Dian Fossey became interested in Africa and
made a six week trip there in 1963. At Olduvai Gorge,
she met Dr. Louis Leakey who impressed on her the
importance of doing research on great apes. This meeting
inspired her to study mountain gorillas.
to work in Africa, Dian won support from the National
Geographic Society and the Wilkie Foundation in 1966
for a research program in the Zaire. Political upheaval
there forced her to move to Rwanda, where in 1967
she established Karisoke, a research camp in the Parc
National des Volcans. In 1970 , her efforts to get
the gorillas to habituate to her presence were finally
rewarded when Peanuts, an adult male, touched her
hand. This was the first friendly gorilla to human
contact ever recorded.
observation over thousands of hours enabled Dr. Fossey
to earn the complete trust of the wild groups she
studied and brought forth new knowledge concerning
many previously unknown aspects of gorilla behavior.
When poachers attacked and killed a young male named
"Digit" to whom she had grown especially
attached , she reacted by waging a public campaign
against gorilla poaching. National Geographic heeded
her pleas by placing her photograph on the cover of
an issue containing an in-depth article with photos
by Bob Campbell. Contributions poured in from around
the world, allowing Dr. Fossey to establish the Digit
Fund (renamed the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund in 1992)
and dedicate the rest of her life to the protection
of the gorillas.
Fossey obtained her Ph.D. at Cambridge University
and in 1980 accepted a position at Cornell University
that enabled her to begin writing Gorillas in the
Mist. Its publication brought her world fame and helped
to focus much needed attention on the plight of the
mountain gorillas, whose numbers had by then dwindled
to 250. She returned to Karisoke to continue her tireless
campaign to ensure the survival of the mountain gorilla
and to stop poaching.
Fossey was murdered in her cabin at Karisoke on December
26, 1985. Her death is a mystery yet unsolved. The
last entry in her diary reads: "When you realize
the value of all life, you dwell less on what is past
and concentrate on the preservation of the future."
Fossey's dream still lives on today in the work of
the Atlanta-based Fossey Fund's dedicated researchers
and Rwandan staff at Karisoke. Today, the mountain
gorilla population is making steady gains in the Virunga
Volcano area. This trend can be attributed to the
success of the efforts of the Dian Fossey Gorilla
Fund International and its supporters. It is also
a fitting memorial to the life and work of Dian Fossey.
1988 the Life and work of Dian Fossey was portrayed
in the major motion picture Gorillas in the Mist,
starring Sigourney Weaver. Ms. Weaver was so moved
by her experience with the gorillas while filming
that she became a supporter of the DFGF. Today Sigourney
Weaver is DFGFI's Honorary Chairperson.