Dian Fossey


Dian Fossey : biography

January 16, 1932 – December 26, 1985

One of Fossey’s friends, Shirley McGreal, continues to work for the protection of primates through the work of her International Primate Protection League (IPPL) one of the few wildlife organizations that according to Fossey effectively promotes "active conservation".

Between Fossey’s death until the 1994 Rwanda genocide, Karisoke was directed by former students, some of whom had opposed her. During the genocide and subsequent period of insecurity, the camp was completely looted and destroyed. Today only remnants remain of her cabin. During the civil war the Virunga parks were filled with refugees and illegal logging destroyed vast areas.

Today, the Rwandan people have realized the importance of the mountain gorillas and their natural habitat. They have adapted the traditional household baby naming ceremony Kwita Izina – into the Baby Gorilla Naming Ceremony in which each baby gorilla is given a name by invited guests and celebrities at an annual, internationally famous event under the patronage of the President.


Mowat’s Virunga, whose British and U.S. editions are called Woman in the Mists: The Story of Dian Fossey and the Mountain Gorillas of Africa, was the first book-length biography of Fossey, and it serves as an insightful counterweight to the many omissions in Fossey’s own story, being derived from Fossey’s actual letters and entries in her journals.

A new book published in 2005 by National Geographic in the United States and Palazzo Editions in the United Kingdom as No One Loved Gorillas More, written by Camilla de la Bedoyere. Dreams: The Legacy of Dian Fossey was published, written by the investigative journalist Georgianne Nienaber. This fictional account is a romanticized fantasy of Fossey’s story told as if in her own words from beyond the grave.

More recently, the Kentucky Opera Visions Program, in Louisville, has written an opera about Fossey. The opera, entitled Nyiramachabelli, premiered on May 23, 2006.

Harold Hayes’ book The Dark Romance of Dian Fossey was published in 1989 after extensive interviews with people who lived and worked with Fossey. Haye’s revealing book shows Fossey candidly, flaws and all, in a less romanticized light than previous accounts, including details about her abuse of alcohol and problematic relationships with people. The film Gorillas in the Mist was based on Hayes’ 1987 article in Life magazine, as cited in the film’s credits, instead of Fossey’s self-edited autobiography by that title.

Fossey is also prominently featured in a book by Vanity Fair journalist Alex Shoumatoff called African Madness, in which the author expands on Fossey’s controversial behaviors, implying that Fossey provoked her own murder by way of her private and public inflammatory interactions with people.

Gorillas in the Mist

Universal Studios bought the film rights to Gorillas in the Mist from Fossey in 1985, and Warner Bros. Studios bought the rights to the Hayes article, despite its having been severely criticized by Rosamond Carr. As a result of a legal battle between the two studios, a co-production was arranged.

Portions of Gorillas in the Mist and the Hayes article were adapted for Gorillas in the Mist: The Story of Dian Fossey, starring Sigourney Weaver. The book covers Fossey’s scientific career in great detail and omits material on her personal life, such as her affair with photographer Bob Campbell. In the film, the affair with Campbell (played by Bryan Brown) forms a major subplot.

The Hayes article preceding the movie portrayed Fossey as a woman obsessed with gorillas, who would stop at nothing to protect them. The film includes scenes of Fossey’s ruthless dealings with poachers, including a scene in which she sets fire to a poacher’s home.

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

In the 2011 BBC documentary All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, Adam Curtis uses Fossey as a symbol of the ideology of ecology, balance of nature and western post-colonial political exploits in Africa.

"Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom: Reunion With the Gorillas"

This episode of the groudbreaking wildlife series, aired in 1984, features footage of Dr. Fossey interacting with the great apes in the Viruna Mountains after being away from them for about three years. The documentary-style video is narrated by Dian Fossey and Marlin Perkins. She shares some of her observations and personal experiences concerning the gorillas in the band she had spent so much time learning to understand. This video can be viewed on YouTube.

Scientific achievements

Fossey made discoveries about gorillas including how females transfer from group to group over the decades, gorilla vocalization, hierarchies and social relationships among groups, rare infanticide, gorilla diet, and how gorillas recycle nutrients. Fossey’s research was funded by the Wilkie Foundation and the Leakey Home, with primary funding from the National Geographic Society.

Cornell University and autobiography

By 1980, Fossey, who had obtained her PhD at Cambridge University in the UK, was recognized as the world’s leading authority on the physiology and behaviour of mountain gorillas, defining gorillas as being "dignified, highly social, gentle giants, with individual personalities, and strong family relationships."

Fossey lectured as professor at Cornell University in 1981-1983. Her bestselling book Gorillas in the Mist was praised by Nikolaas Tinbergen, the Dutch ethologist and ornithologist who won the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Her book remains the best-selling book about gorillas.Mowat, Farley. Woman in the Mists: The Story of Dian Fossey and the Mountain Gorillas of Africa. Warner Books, 1987.