All About Dian Fossey : Dian Fossey was a well-known primatologist who was revered and respected in Rwanda for her work to save mountain gorillas. Dian Fossey was born in San Francisco, California in 1932. Dian Fossey was reared by her mother and stepfather after her real father divorced her mother when she was young. Dian Fossey was a bright student who began horseback riding at the age of six, and later in Junior College she enrolled in a business course after being motivated by her stepfather, a rich businessman.

Dian Fossey was such a hard worker that she even worked while attending college. At the age of 19, she began working on a ranch, where she established her passion and commitment to animals. She had chicken pox while at the ranch, which prompted her to depart sooner. Dian Fossey enrolled at the University of California as a pre-veterinary student once she was healed and ready. Because chemistry and physics were not her strong suits, she chose to major in occupational therapy at San Jose State College, where she graduated in 1954.

After graduation, she interned at a variety medical hospitals in California while also helping to care for the animals at the farm where she was residing. She felt a strong attachment to her time spent on the farm with the animals. Dian Fossey traveled to Africa after seeing photos of a friend who had returned from an African safari.

All About Dian Fossey
All About Dian Fossey

Dian applied for a bank loan in 1963 and began to organize her first journey to Africa, booking a driver by mail and eventually arriving at the place of her dreams. This voyage to Africa, namely Kenya, cost her both her life savings and a bank loan. Dian Fossey landed in Kenya in September 1963, with plans to tour Kenya, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Zimbabwe.

Dian Fossey’s Trip to Africa;

Her guide was a British hunter named John Alexander, and their suggested itinerary included visits to Tsavo, Africa’s largest national park, Lake Manyara, a crater salt lake with a significant number of flamingos, and the Ngorongoro crater to see the plentiful animals. She intended to explore the Olduvai Gorge as well as Mount Mikeno in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which was then known as Zaire.

Dr. George Schaller, an American naturalist, conducted the pioneering study on mountain gorillas on Mount Mikeno. Dr. George Schaller was the first person to conduct a credible field research in the highlands, and with his findings and efforts, Dian Fossey’s yet-to-be-completed lifetime work was eased and given a route. Dian Fossey met with Dr. Louis Leakey on her tour to the Olduvai Gorge, where they chatted about nature and Dr. Louis told her about Jane Goodall’s work with chimps in Tanzania.

Dian Fossey claims that the idea for mountain gorillas occurred to her after this encounter. Dr. Louis Leakey discussed why he felt chimp conservation was vital, as well as his research. Dian Fossey tripped and fell into an excavated trench during her visit to the Olduvai Gorge, breaking her ankle and cutting her stay short. Despite this, she went on the walk to see the mountain gorillas.

Dian Fossey’s Research Study on Mountain Gorillas.

Dian Fossey continued her work at Kosair Children’s Hospital in Kentucky, but she also found time to publish a number of essays and images from her journey to Africa. These would come in handy in the spring of 1966, when Dr. Louis Leakey came to Louisville as part of a lecture tour. Dian joined the gathering and queued to talk with Leakey. When it was her time, she showed him some of the pieces that had been published.

This piqued his interest, and during the subsequent meeting, Leakey discussed leading a long-term field expedition to research gorillas in Africa with Dian. Dian was advised by Leakey that if she went forward with the procedure, her appendix would have to be removed first. Perhaps it was an indication of her strong will that she did just that, only to learn later from Leakey that his advice was mostly intended to gauge her commitment!

It took eight months for Leakey to get funds for the project. Dian spent that time to study and complete paying off her first trip to Africa. She concentrated on a “Teach Yourself Swahili” language book and George Schaller’s books about his own mountain gorilla field studies. It was tough for her to say goodbye to family, friends, and her beloved pets.

Dian was on her way to Africa again in December 1966. She landed in Nairobi and, with the assistance of Joan Root, procured the essential supplies. She drove to the Congo in an ancient canvas-topped Land Rover dubbed “Lily,” which Dr. Leakey had bought for her. Dian stopped along the trip to see Jane Goodall and watch her study methods with chimps at the Gombe Stream Research Centre.

Dian went to the Travellers Rest, a tiny guesthouse in Uganda near the Virunga Mountains and mountain gorillas, on Oct. 16. The hotel was owned by Walter Baumgartel, a gorilla conservationist who was among the first to see the potential benefits of tourism in the area.

All About Dian Fossey
All About Dian Fossey

Baumgartel suggested Dian meet with Joan and Alan Root, Kenyan wildlife photographers who were filming mountain gorillas for a photographic documentary. Dian was permitted to stay behind the Roots’ hut for a few days before being taken into the bush to look for gorillas. When they came upon a troop of gorillas and Dian was able to view and photograph them, she made a solid commitment to return and study these magnificent creatures, as she explains in “Gorillas in the Mist”.

Dian stayed in Africa for a little longer after her visit to the Virungas, visiting with friends in Rhodesia. When she returned to Kentucky, she resumed her employment at Kosair Children’s Hospital in order to repay the debt she had taken out for her journey to Africa – all the while fantasizing about the day she would return.

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