Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International
An Interview with President/CEO Tara Stoinski
This week marks the 30th anniversary of the murder of Dian Fossey, whose groundbreaking research and anti-poaching initiatives helped bring Mountain Gorillas back from the brink of extinction.
Along with Jane Goodall and Biruté Galdikas, Fossey was one of three iconic primatologists led by legendary archaeologist/paleontologist Louis Leakey. Known as the Trimates or “Leakey’s Angels,” these women made huge strides in field research of primates in their natural habitats, which Leakey believed was as crucial as archaeology to unraveling the mysteries of human evolution. And they did it in an era when females in scientific research were considered highly controversial.
Dian Fossey, photo courtesy Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International
A 1970 National Geographic cover story and the 1988 biopic Gorillas In The Mist made Fossey famous, and her work in Rwanda influenced nearly every aspect of gorilla conservation today. Unfortunately, her interactions with locals were not so productive. Her aggressive tactics to protect the gorillas made many enemies among government officials and local indigenous peoples, many of whom poached animals in the forests the gorillas inhabited in order to feed their families.
On December 26, 1985, Fossey was tragically killed in her sleep. The mystery of her murder has never been solved, and her marked grave at the remote Karisoke research camp has long since fallen into ruin. But the non-profit Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International continues her work, helping Rwanda’s Mountain Gorilla population grow from 254 individuals in 1981 to around 500 today (more than half the total remaining population of around 900).
After our incredible experience trekking to see Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda a few months ago, we interviewed DFGFI CEO/President Tara Stoinski. A leader in the world of primate conservation (including serving on the executive committee of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Section on Great Apes and as a conservation advisor for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Gorilla Species Survival Plan), Stoinski spoke with us about Dian Fossey’s legacy and the vital work her organization is doing for gorilla conservation today.