Dian Fossey: Saviour to the denizens of the mist.

As a kid, we were fascinated by the stories of The Legend of Tarzan, a feral child, adopted by the gorillas and lived his childhood and adolescence in the wilderness of the jungles of Africa. He was a character, although, primitive in his habits, an admirable character, because of his character. When we talk of the jungles of Africa, we can never not keep ourselves from the “denizens of the mist”, the mountain gorillas. These gentle giants are an endangered species, and especially in the 1960’s and the 70’s when these Gorillas fell victim to the poachers, falling into traps set for other animals and their homelands slowly being encroached upon by humans.

Although there were many conservationist, one of the most influential and inspirational efforts made to change the lives of these Gorillas was by Dian Fossey. Author of one of the best- selling books and a movie having the same name, “Gorillas in the mist”.  She was born on January 16, 1932 in San Francisco, California. She grew up with her mother and step father, and initially like her stepfather, a wealthy businessman, she chose to study business, but she developed an attachment with animals, when she went to work on a dude ranch in Montana.

She then shifted her focus to occupational therapy and interned at many hospitals, working with tuberculosis patients, and seasonal work with the animals in a cottage farm. She always wanted to explore the world and its abundant wildlife and finally took an initiative to realise her dream, after she saw the pictures from one of her friend’s trip to Africa.

On her first visit to Africa, she was acquainted with George Schaller who carried out a pioneering study of the mountain gorillas, and whose efforts laid the groundwork for Fossey’s life work. She was planted with an idea that she would one day return to study the gorillas during her first visit. Dr. Louis Leaky had offered her about heading a long term field project in Africa about the gorillas. She learnt Swahili and had Schaller’s books about his field studies along with her.

Dian Fossey set herself up at Kabara, it was only after the first two days that she realised how alone she was, and soon she learnt how to track the Gorillas from the natives of Kabara and also made attempts to come in contact with them, she was eventually able to gain the acceptance of the Gorillas, as she had described in her book. Through her efforts she was able to identify the individuals in each of the groups, heavily relying on their individual “noseprints”.

Over the years she faced many obstacles, like escaping away from the glitches of the military guards during the rebellion in the province of Zaire. She owed much of the progress in her life’s work to the people she met along her way.

Over the course of her research, she established herself as a true friend of the gorillas, and one of the gorillas in particular, named Digit, she encountered him when he was 4, in 1967, he had no playmates of his own age group and formed a special bond with him. Tragically, Digit was killed in 1977 by the poachers when he was trying to protect his group. His death resulted in the declare of war against the poachers, she appealed to the Gorilla conservationists and raised fund for “active conservation” and anti-poaching initiative.

Her book “Gorillas in the mist” was published in the year 1983, is an account of her years with the gorillas in the rain forest, and also underscored the need for concerted conservation efforts. She was murdered a few weeks before her 54th birthday because of the uproars she had caused. She was laid to rest behind her cabin in Karisoke, next to her beloved digit.

“When you realize the value of all life, you dwell less on what is past and concentrate on the preservation of the future.” – Gorillas in the Mist

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