Dian Fossey

American zoologist, gorilla researcher (1932-1985)

Dian Fossey (January 16, 1932 – c. December 26, 1985) was an American primatologist and conservationist known for undertaking an extensive study of mountain gorilla groups from 1966 until her murder in 1985. She studied them daily in the mountain forests of Rwanda, initially encouraged to work there by paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey. Gorillas in the Mist, a book published two years before her death, is Fossey's account of her scientific study of the gorillas at Karisoke Research Center and prior career. It was adapted into a 1988 film of the same name.

Fossey was a leading primatologist, and a member of the "Trimates", a group of female scientists recruited by Leakey to study the great apes (Hominidae) in their natural environments, along with Jane Goodall who studies chimpanzees, and Biruté Galdikas, who studies orangutans.

Fossey spent 20 years in Rwanda, where she supported conservation efforts, strongly opposed poaching and tourism in wildlife habitats, and made more people acknowledge the sapience of gorillas. Following the killing of a gorilla and subsequent tensions, she was murdered in her cabin at a remote camp in Rwanda in December 1985. Although Fossey's American research assistant was convicted in absentia, there is no consensus as to who killed her.


  • "Despite the fame of Fossey and the other Trimates, women, and particularly African women, are still underrepresented in science. We are taking numerous initiatives to strengthen our programs for women in science, including establishing a scholarship fund, as well as aiming to have equal representation of women in our livelihoods and food security work that takes place in the communities living near the gorillas," adds Stoinski. "It is wonderful to be able to extend Dian’s legacy in this special way, perhaps not one that she would have expected."
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