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Dian Fossey was a zoologist best known for researching the endangered gorillas of the Rwandan mountain forest from the 1960s to the '80s, and for her mysterious murder.
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In 1967, Fossey established the Karisoke Research Foundation in Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park to facilitate the study of mountain gorillas, alternating her time between her fieldwork there and obtaining a Ph.D. based on her research at Cambridge University. She earned her degree in 1976, and later accepted a visiting associate professorship at Cornell University.
Published in 1983,
Fossey's Gorillas in the Mist went on to become a best-seller. A film with the same name was also released in 1988, starring Sigourney Weaver as Fossey.
Considered the world's leading authority on the physiology and behavior of mountain gorillas, Dian Fossey fought hard to protect these "gentle giants" from environmental and human hazards. She saw these animals as dignified, highly social creatures with individual personalities and strong family relationships. Her active conservationist stand to save these animals from game wardens, zoo poachers, and government officials who wanted to convert gorilla habitats to farmland caused her to fight for the gorillas not only via the media, but also by destroying poachers' dogs and traps.
Tragically, on December 26, 1985, Fossey was found hacked to death, presumably by poachers, at her Rwandan forest camp. No assailant has ever been found or prosecuted in her murder.
Today, Dian Fossey's work continues through the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (formerly named the Digit Fund), under which the Karisoke Research Foundation continues to operate, despite the odds: After Karisoke's original facility in Rwanda was destroyed during the Rwandan civil war, its headquarters were relocated to Musanze. The foundation recently brought in its first Rwandan director. According to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund's website, "since Fossey's death in 1985, the Fund's activities have expanded to include the protection of Grauer's (eastern lowland) gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as the mountain gorillas in that country's Virunga National Park and other endangered species in the gorillas' habitats."
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Visit the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, which was founded by Dian Fossey in 1978 to conserve and protect gorillas and their habitats in Africa.
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