Dian Fossey

Google Doodles are something which we see almost everyday, but not always pay attention to. Last week, Google Doodle payed its respects to Dian Fossey, one of the world’s leading figures in the field of great apes, that would have turned 82 on the 16th of January.

Born in San Francisco in 1932, Dian had an enormous passion for animals, but she eventually specialized herself in occupational therapy. As she had always wanted to get to know Africa, in 1963 she gathered all her money and a loan, and went to visit Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Congo. There, she met several well-known figures in the fields of sciences and natural wildlife, such as the paleo-anthropologists Mary Leakey and Louis Leakey, or Joan and Alan Root. Joan and Alan were photographers of wildlife, who were working with gorillas at the time they met Dian, and they were the ones who introduced her to these primates. In her later book, Gorillas in the Mist, Fossey wrote that “I left Kabara [Congo] with reluctance, but with never a doubt that I would, somehow, return to learn more about the gorillas of the misted mountains.” And so she did.

After spending a period in the United States, where she studied the gorillas of the Rwandan mountain forest, she went back to Congo, to live in the middle of the gorillas. Nevertheless, this was a period of political instability in Congo, and she was forced to move to Rwanda. There, she continued to live amongst mountain gorillas, and founded the Karisoke Research Foundation. While pursuing her studies in the field, she eventually obtained a Ph. D. in zoology from Cambridge University.

Not only did Fossey change the way people studied gorillas, by proving that they did not have a violent behavior as many speculated, as she was also an important activist of their rights, encouraging the respect for their uniqueness. She particularly liked one gorilla she had named Digit. Unfortunately, poachers killed him for his hands. From that moment on, Fossey became a hard campaigner for wildlife conservation and against poaching in Africa. It is thought today that this was the reason for her death. Indeed, in 1985, Fossey was found murdered by machete coups in her cabin in Rwanda. Her assassins were never found, but it is thought that they were poachers, displeased by her work amongst mountain gorillas. Dian Fossey remains in history as one of the persons who got to live the closest to these animals, having highly encouraged their protection. She is certainly a hero in her field. You can read more about her here or watch a the short video below.

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