The Passionate, Controversial and Fabulous Dian Fossey

January 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

She loved children and animals. She loved men. She loved, more than anything, the gorillas of Africa. Dian Fossey was a woman who followed her heart. Or, perhaps, she was discovering her heart.

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I sometimes wonder how people follow that heart, that passion, with an intensity such as hers, in a way so remarkably driven that one separates from any sort of “real life normalcy” ~ and how interesting that, conversely, it has the effect of changing our “normal” world with insights and awarenesses otherwise left unknown. These are the true trailblazers. Dian Fossey certainly qualifies.

It could be that her unhappy childhood (in particular a cold, strict, unsupportive stepfather) provided a sense of “rootlessness” allowing her to leave civilization behind for the bulk of her adult life. She became wholly dedicated to primate research and conservation, living among Rwanda’s gentle mountain gorillas  ~ and, I understand, a menagerie of other animals ~ for close to 20 years.

Her life’s work provided stunning, groundbreaking research about gorilla behavior and, over time, earned her a reputation for ruthless dealings with poachers. In 1967, Dian founded the Karisoke Research Centre. With the help of National Geographic photographers and countless television appearances she focused world attention on the gorillas’ plight. She began raising money to pay for anti-poaching, and in 1978 set up the first ranger patrols in Rwanda.

In the end, her passion cost her her life. She was murdered by an unknown attacker in the early hours of December 27, 1985, in her cabin at Karisoke. 

An extraordinary woman who left the world a better place, Dian’s account of her extraordinary years in remote Africa, Gorillas in the Mist, was published in 1983. Hollywood made it a box office hit in 1987.  She would have been 81 today. 

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