|Dian Fossey was born in San Francisco, California in 1932. Her strong interest in animals led her to enter college as a pre-veterinary student. Soon, however, she switched to occupational therapy and obtained her degree from San Jose State College.
Through friends, Dian Fossey became interested in Africa and made a six week trip there in 1963. At Olduvai Gorge, she met Dr. Louis Leakey who impressed on her the importance of doing research on great apes. This meeting inspired her to study mountain gorillas.
Determined to work in Africa, Dian won support from the National Geographic Society and the Wilkie Foundation in 1966 for a research program in the Zaire. Political upheaval there forced her to move to Rwanda, where in 1967 she established Karisoke, a research camp in the Parc National des Volcans. In 1970 , her efforts to get the gorillas to habituate to her presence were finally rewarded when Peanuts, an adult male, touched her hand. This was the first friendly gorilla to human contact ever recorded.
Intense observation over thousands of hours enabled Dr. Fossey to earn the complete trust of the wild groups she studied and brought forth new knowledge concerning many previously unknown aspects of gorilla behavior. When poachers attacked and killed a young male named "Digit" to whom she had grown especially attached , she reacted by waging a public campaign against gorilla poaching. National Geographic heeded her pleas by placing her photograph on the cover of an issue containing an in-depth article with photos by Bob Campbell. Contributions poured in from around the world, allowing Dr. Fossey to establish the Digit Fund (renamed the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund in 1992) and dedicate the rest of her life to the protection of the gorillas.
Dr Fossey obtained her Ph.D. at Cambridge University and in 1980 accepted a position at Cornell University that enabled her to begin writing Gorillas in the Mist. Its publication brought her world fame and helped to focus much needed attention on the plight of the mountain gorillas, whose numbers had by then dwindled to 250. She returned to Karisoke to continue her tireless campaign to ensure the survival of the mountain gorilla and to stop poaching.
Dr. Fossey was murdered in her cabin at Karisoke on December 26, 1985. Her death is a mystery yet unsolved. The last entry in her diary reads: "When you realize the value of all life, you dwell less on what is past and concentrate on the preservation of the future."
Dian Fossey's dream still lives on today in the work of the Atlanta-based Fossey Fund's dedicated researchers and Rwandan staff at Karisoke. Today, the mountain gorilla population is making steady gains in the Virunga Volcano area. This trend can be attributed to the success of the efforts of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International and its supporters. It is also a fitting memorial to the life and work of Dian Fossey.
In 1988 the Life and work of Dian Fossey was portrayed in the major motion picture Gorillas in the Mist, starring Sigourney Weaver. Ms. Weaver was so moved by her experience with the gorillas while filming that she became a supporter of the DFGF. Today Sigourney Weaver is DFGFI's Honorary Chairperson.