Distinguished Women of Past and Present


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Dian Fossey

From: Rwanda, United States: California
Fields: Activism and Social Service, Biology
Key Words/Phrases: primatologist, studied gorillas
Fossey, Dian (1932-1985), American zoologist, whose field studies of wild gorillas in the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda and Zaire served to dispel many myths about the violent and aggressive nature of gorillas. Born in San Francisco, Fossey graduated from San Jose State College in 1954 with a degree in occupational therapy; she then worked at a children's hospital in Kentucky for several years. Inspired by the writings of American zoologist George B. Schaller, Fossey traveled to Africa in 1963. There she observed mountain gorillas in the wild and visited the British anthropologist Louis Leakey. Leakey, believing that studies of great apes would shed light on the subject of human evolution, encouraged Fossey to undertake a long-term field study of gorillas. Fossey was an astute and patient observer of gorilla behavior. She knew each individual in her study area, and she came to regard the gorillas as gentle, social animals. Her study site, Karisoke, became an international center for gorilla research when she established the Karisoke Research Center in 1967. Fossey received a Ph.D. in zoology from Cambridge University in 1974. Her book, Gorillas in the Mist (1983), recounts observations from her years of field research. Fossey spent 22 years studying the ecology and behavior of mountain gorillas. In 1985 she was found murdered at her campsite. Some authorities believe she was murdered in retaliation for her efforts to stop the poaching of gorillas and other animals in Africa. Due largely to Fossey's research and conservation work, mountain gorillas are now protected by the government of Rwanda and by the international conservation and scientific communities.

"Fossey, Dian" Microsoft Encarta.
Copyright 1995 Microsoft Corporation.


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