Dian Fossey

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Dian Fossey : biography

January 16, 1932 – December 26, 1985

While gorillas from fringe groups on the mountains that were not part of Fossey’s study had often been found poached five to ten at a time, and had spurred Fossey to conduct her own anti-poaching patrols, Fossey’s study groups had not been direct victims of poaching until Fossey’s favored gorilla Digit was killed in 1978. Later that year, the silverback of Digit’s Group 4, named for Fossey’s Uncle Bert, was shot in the heart while trying to save his son, Kweli, from being seized by poachers cooperating with the Rwandan park conservator. Kweli’s mother, Macho, was also killed in the raid, but Kweli was not captured due to Uncle Bert’s intervention; however, three-year-old Kweli died slowly and painfully of gangrene, from being brushed by a poacher’s bullet.

According to Fossey’s letters, ORTPN (the Rwandan national park system), the World Wildlife Fund, African Wildlife Foundation, Fauna Preservation Society, the Mountain Gorilla Project and some of her former students tried to wrest control of the Karisoke research center from her for the purpose of tourism, by portraying her as unstable. In her last two years, Fossey claims not to have lost any gorillas to poachers; however, the Mountain Gorilla Project, which was supposed to patrol the Mount Sabyinyo area, tried to cover up gorilla deaths caused by poaching and diseases transmitted through tourists. Nevertheless, these organizations received most of the public donations directed towards gorilla conservation. The public often believed their money would go to Fossey, who was struggling to finance her anti-poaching and bushmeat hunting patrols, while organizations collecting in her name put it into tourism projects and as she put it "to pay the airfare of so-called conservationists who will never go on anti-poaching patrols in their life." Fossey described the differing two philosophies as her own "active conservation" or the international conservation groups’ "theoretical conservation."

Opposition to tourism

Dian Fossey strongly opposed tourism, as gorillas are very susceptible to diseases by humans like the flu for which they have no immunity. Dian Fossey reported several cases in which gorillas died because of diseases spread by tourists. She also viewed tourism as an interference into their natural wild behaviour. Fossey also criticised tourist programs, often paid for by international conservation organisations, for interfering with both her research and the peace of the mountain gorillas’ habitat. Today, however, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International recognizes the importance of tourism in helping to create a stable and sustainable local community dedicated to protecting the gorillas and their habitat. http://gorillafund.org/travel?utm_source=homepage&utm_medium=travel&utm_campaign=homepagetravel

Preservation of habitat

Fossey is responsible for the revision of a European Community project that converted parkland into pyrethrum farms. Thanks to her efforts, the park boundary was lowered from the 3,000-meter line to the 2,500-meter line.

Digit Fund

Sometime during the day on New Year’s Eve 1977, Fossey’s favourite gorilla, Digit, was killed by poachers. As the sentry of study group 4, he defended the group against six poachers and their dogs, who ran across the gorilla study group while checking antelope traplines. Digit took five spear wounds in ferocious self-defence and managed to kill one of the poachers’ dogs, allowing the other 13 members of his group to escape. Digit was decapitated, and his hands cut off for ashtrays, for the price of $20. After his mutilated body was discovered by research assistant Ian Redmond, Fossey’s group captured one of the killers. He revealed the names of his five accomplices, three of whom were later imprisoned.

Fossey subsequently created the Digit Fund (now the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International in the USA)This organisation is unaffiliated with the Gorilla Organization in the UK, which uses Dian’s name although it no longer funded her work after Digit’s death. to raise money for anti-poaching patrols. In addition, a consortium of international gorilla funds arose to accept donations in light of Digit’s death and increased attention on poaching. Fossey mostly opposed the efforts of the international organisations, which she felt inefficiently directed their funds towards more equipment for Rwandan park officials, some of whom were alleged to have ordered some of the gorilla poachings in the first place.