Gorillas In the Mist: The Story of Dian Fossey

by Dave on March 19, 2010 · 9 comments

The man who kills the animals today is the man who kills the people who get in his way tomorrow.  — Dian Fossey

A chance to see endangered mountain gorillas in the wild is the number one reason why I’m headed to Rwanda this weekend.  And it’s probably the primary reason most other travelers would put the tiny, central African nation on their itinerary as well.

To prepare for this once in a lifetime experience, I watched Gorillas In the Mist (1988).  The movie, featuring Sigourney Weaver, recounts the story of American zoologist Dian Fossey, who traveled to the Congo in 1966 to take a census of the gorillas.  The Congolese soon kicked her out, and into Rwanda, where she began her work anew.

It was fascinating to watch how she learned to mirror the gorillas’ body language, behavior and sounds.  By doing so, she was able to interact with them in a close and personal way.  Her attachment to them resembled more of an obsession at times, and even her love interest, a National Geographic photographer named Bob Campbell, described her as “weird and wonderful.”

Watching footage of the mountain gorillas was equally fascinating.  It was easy to see how Fossey became so enamored with them.  The knowledge that I will soon be crouched in the jungle, observing their behavior just as she had done is still hard to believe.

Ironically, Fossey was against tourism and turning the region into a “zoo,” for fear of humans spreading disease to the gorillas, and interrupting their natural habitat.  As human populations increase, however, it seems as though we have to take those risks, otherwise there is no economic incentive for local people to protect indigenous wildlife populations.

The depiction of poaching in the movie was saddening, as these majestic gorillas would have their heads, hands, and feet chopped off for a pittance in US dollars.  Fossey’s demise was equally violent, and remains a mystery to this day.  She was buried in the same cemetery where she laid gorillas to rest.

Dian Fossey dedicated 18 years of her life to the protection of mountain gorillas in Rwanda, and she is credited with helping to save them from the edge of extinction.


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Categories: Rwanda
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joanna_haugen March 19, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Dian Fossey did so much amazing work in Rwanda. It's a shame her life was cut short. I'm convinced she could have done so much more.


Dave March 23, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Joanna – from the movie, I found Fossey’s life inspiring too. We didn’t get the chance to trek to her former home/grave, but her legacy certainly lives on with the gorillas of Rwanda.


Anil March 23, 2010 at 5:29 am

One of my favorite movies ever and part of the reason I decided to study anthropology.


HillsofAfrica April 2, 2010 at 7:07 am

How wonderful that your gorilla trekking in Rwanda! As an African safari travel agent we have a lot of clients who are eager to see the gorillas in both Rwanda and Uganda. When they return from their trip they are all filled with stories and fascination! Seeing those huge gorillas in the wild is both intimidating and exhilarating. Will you be writing about your experience on your blog? I'd love to hear about it!


Dave April 4, 2010 at 11:15 am

Hi Sandy, great to hear from you. Yes, I'll be posting about my experience trekking to see the mountain gorillas of Rwanda tomorrow (Monday).


Mia April 5, 2010 at 7:49 pm

Dian truly serves as an inspiration and a great role model. I love watching the movie, it has deeply moved me and made me realize so much about life and one's cause to make a difference.


kelly April 7, 2010 at 1:53 pm

I was amazed by this story. I can watch the movie over and over again.


kelly April 7, 2010 at 6:53 pm

I was amazed by this story. I can watch the movie over and over again.


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