Hike to the Dian Fossey Tombs in Rwanda, Dian Fossey Rwanda

Dian Fossey 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 the work of committed local since her violent murder, there possibly wouldn’t be any of the great apes remaining in Rwanda.

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

By 1966 Fossey had secured the funding and support of the Leakey family, and began conducting field research of her own. However, political unrest caused her to abandon her efforts the following year at kabara (in the democratic republic of Congo), and establish the karioke Research centre, a remote camp on Bisoke in the more politically stable Rwanda 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 of gorillas. This bloody crime scene caused the media to speculate that poachers, who were angered by her conservationist stance, murdered her in afit of range.

While this may have been the case, a good measure of mystery still sorrounds fossy’s murder and despite the1986 conviction of the former student, many people believe that the murderer’s true identity was never credibly established and her former student was merely a convenient scapegoat.

Following the death, Fossey was buried in the virungas next to her favorite gorilla dogit, who had previously been killed by poachers. Throughout his life, Dian fossey was a proponent of Active conservation: the belief that endangered 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 issue since untimely death.

Today, Fossey is best known for her 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: the movie was criticised for several fictious scenes in which Fossey aggressively harasses local poachers, as well as its stylised portrayal of her affair with photographer Bob campbell. It does, however, serve as a good introduction to the on going plight of the endangered eastern mountain gorilla.