Dian Fossey


Dian Fossey : biography

January 16, 1932 – December 26, 1985

The deaths of some of her most studied gorillas caused Fossey to devote more of her attention to preventing poaching and less on scientific publishing and research. Fossey became more intense in protecting the gorillas and began to employ more direct tactics: she and her staff cut animal traps almost as soon as they were set; frightened, captured and humiliated the poachers; held their cattle for ransom; burned their hunting camps and even mats from their houses. Fossey also constantly challenged the local officials to enforce the law and assist her.

Selected bibliography


  • Dian Fossey: Gorillas in the Mist, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1983
  • "Living with mountain gorillas", in The Marvels of Animal Behavior 208–229 (T.B. Allen ed., National Geographic Society), 1972
  • D. Fossey & A.H. Harcourt: "Feeding ecology of free-ranging mountain gorilla (Gorilla gorilla beringei)", in Primate Ecology: Studies of Feeding and Ranging Behaviour in Lemurs, Monkeys and Apes 415–447 (T.H. Clutton-Brock ed., Academic Press), 1977
  • "Development of the mountain gorilla (Gorilla gorilla beringei) through the first thirty-six months", in The Great Apes 139–186 (D.A. Hamburg & E.R. McCown eds., Benjamin-Cummings), 1979

Scholarly articles

  • "An amiable giant: Fuertes’s gorilla", Living Bird Quarterly 1(summer): 21–22, 1982
  • "Mountain gorilla research, 1974", Nat. Geogr. Soc. Res. Reps. 14: 243–258, 1982
  • "Mountain gorilla research, 1971–1972", Nat. Geogr. Soc. Res. Reps. 1971 Projects, 12: 237–255, 1980
  • "Mountain gorilla research, 1969–1970", Nat. Geogr. Soc. Res. Reps. 1969 Projects, 11: 173–176, 1978
  • The behaviour of the mountain gorilla, Ph.D. diss. Cambridge University, 1976
  • "Observations on the home range of one group of mountain gorillas (Gorilla gorilla beringei)", Anim. Behav. 22: 568–581, 1974
  • "Vocalizations of the mountain gorilla (Gorilla gorilla beringei)", Anim. Behav. 20: 36-531972

Personal life

During her African safari, Fossey met Alexie Forrester, the brother of an African she had been dating in Louisville; Fossey and Forrester later became engaged. In her later years Fossey became involved with National Geographic photographer Bob Campbell after a year of working together at Karisoke, with Campbell promising to leave his wife. Eventually the pair grew apart through her dedication to the gorillas and Karisoke, along with his need to work further afield and his marriage. In 1970, during her time in Cambridge to get her Ph.D., she discovered she was pregnant and got an abortion, later commenting that "you can’t be a cover girl for National Geographic magazine and be pregnant." Fossey had other relationships throughout the years and a love for children. Since Fossey would rescue any abused or abandoned animal she saw in Africa or near Karisoke, she acquired a menagerie in the camp, including a monkey who lived in her cabin, Kima, and a dog, Cindy. Fossey held Christmas parties every year for her researchers, staffers, and their families, and she developed a genuine friendship with Jane Goodall.

Fossey had been plagued by lung problems from an early age, and later in her life, Fossey suffered from advanced emphysema brought on by years of heavy cigarette smoking. As the debilitating disease progressed— further aggravated by the high mountain altitude and damp climate— Fossey found it increasingly difficult to conduct field research, frequently suffering from shortness of breath and requiring the help of an oxygen tank when climbing or hiking long distances.


After her death, Fossey’s Digit Fund in the U.S. was renamed the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. The Karisoke Research Center is operated by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, and continues the daily gorilla monitoring and protection that she started.