Dian fossy was an American zoologist who spent the better part of her life at a remote camp high up on the slopes of the Virungas studying the mountain gorillas. Without her tenacious efforts to have poaching stamped out, and work of committed locals since her violent murder, there possibly wouldn’t be any of the great apes remaining in Rwanda.

Although trained in occupational therapy, in 1963 Fossy took out a loan and travelled to Tanzania where she met Dr Louis and Mary Leakey.At the time, she learned about the work of Jane Goodall with chimpanzees and George Schaller’s ground breaking studies on gorillas.

By 1966 Fossy had secured the funding and support of the Leakey family, and began conducting field research for her own. However, political unrest caused her to abandone her efforts the following year of kabara (in the Democratic Republic of Congo), and establish the Karisoke Research Centre, a remote camp on Bisoke in the more politically stable Rwandan Virungas.

Fossey was catapulted to international stardom when her photograph was snapped by Bob Campbell in 1970 and splashed across the cover of National Geographic. Seizing her new found celebrity status, fossey embarked on a massive publicity campaign aimed at saving the mountain gorillas from impending extinction.

Tragically, Fossey was brutally murdered on 26 December 1985. Her skull was split open by a panga, a type of machete used by local poachers to cut the heads and hands off the gorillas. This bloody crime scene caused the media to speculate that poarchers, who were angered by her conservationist stance, murdered her in the fit of rage.

While this might have been the case, a good measure of mystery still surrounds fossy’s murder and despite the 1986 conviction of a former student, many people believe the murder’s true identity was never credibly established and her former student was merely a convenient scapegoat.

Following her death, Fossey was burried in the Virungas next to her favourite gorilla, digit, who had previously been killed by poarchers. Throughout her life Dian Fossey was active of a prominent of active conservation: the belief that endagered species are best protected through rigorous anti-poaching measures and habitat protection. As a result, she strongly opposed the promotion of Tourism in the Virunga range, though the Dian Fossey gorilla fund international has changed its position on the issues since her untimely death.

Today, Fossey is best known for book Gorillas in the Mist, which is both a description of her scientific research and an insightful memoir detailing her time in Rwanda. Parts of her life story were later adapted in the film Gorillas in the mist.


A popular trek is to the site of the former Karisoke research centre, where Dian Fossey is burried a long side alongside many of her primate subjects, including the famous Digit. From the park headquaters it’s about a 30-minute drive to the trailhead, followed by a two –to three-hour hike to the ruins of the camp.this excursion costs  us$75 per person, including park fees and a guide (though you are responsible for your own transportation to/from the trailhead)