Fossey, Dian

Fossey, Dian

(fô`sē, fŏs`ē), 1932–85, American zoologist, b. San Francisco, who lived and worked with the mountain gorillas of central Africa, adding immeasurably to the understanding of their behavior. She received a bachelor's degree from San Jose State College (now San Jose State Univ.) in 1954 and worked for a short time as an occupational therapist before traveling to Africa to meet Louis LeakeyLeakey, Louis Seymour Bazett
, 1903–72, British archaeologist and anthropologist of E Africa, b. Kabete, Kenya; father of Richard Leakey. His fossil discoveries in E Africa demonstrated that humans were far older than had previously been suspected.
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. He encouraged her, and she began her field studies in the Congo in 1966. Arrested and forced to leave during a military uprising, she moved to Rwanda and set up the Karisoke Research Center, which she directed from 1967 to 1980. Living a solitary life for many years, she observed the gorillas' habits and gradually gained their acceptance. Concerned with threats to the gorillas from loss of habitat and from poachers, she wrote Gorillas in the Mist (1983) to acquaint the public with their plight. She was found murdered at her camp in 1985.

Bibliography

See F. Mowat, Woman in the Mists (1987); H. Hayes, The Dark Romance of Dian Fossey (1990); S. Montgomery, Walking with the Great Apes (1991).

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Fossey, Dian

(1932–85) primatologist; born in San Francisco. She was interested in animals from childhood, but changed college majors from preveterinary studies to occupational therapy. She moved to Louisville, Ky., to be director of the Kosair Crippled Children's Hospital occupational therapy department (1955–56), but felt compelled to satisfy her long-standing desire to visit Africa. On her first trip to Africa (1963), she met paleontologists Mary and Louis S. B. Leakey, who encouraged Fossey's dream to live and work with mountain gorillas. When Louis Leakey somewhat facetiously suggested that Fossey have her appendix prophylactically removed before living in a remote area, her having the operation so convinced Leakey of her determination that he invited her to begin field work in 1966. She lived among the mountain gorillas in the Republic of the Congo (now Zaire) until civil war forced her to escape to Rwanda. She established the Karisoke Research Foundation (1967), alternating her time between her field work there and obtaining a Ph.D. based on her research (Cambridge University, 1976), accepting a visiting associate professorship at Cornell (1980), and writing her best-selling book, Gorillas in the Mist (published 1983). She was considered the world's leading authority on the physiology and behavior of mountain gorillas, and portrayed these animals as dignified, highly social, "gentle giants," with individual personalities and strong family relationships. Her active conservationist stand against 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. She was found hacked to death, presumably by poachers, in her Rwandan forest camp in December 1985.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.