2020 Annual Report



2020 started out the same as always, with resolutions and wishes for a Happy New Year. At the Fossey Fund, it was business as usual: Our trackers, staff and scientists were at work in the forests and communities of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

But then the coronavirus began its deadly march across the globe. The whole world changed, almost overnight, and we had to change with it.

Our important work protecting the gorillas could not stop, but we had to ensure our staff members and the gorillas stayed healthy. We adopted new and costly safety measures to ensure the continued health of our trackers and prevent transmission to the gorillas we protect. Every one of our trackers rose to the challenge; going above and beyond, they transitioned to rotations in the field, which kept them away from their own families for long periods of time, because they know, as our donors know, that we never leave the gorillas.

This year has challenged our staying power as few others have in our 53-year history. There have been times when the problems we faced seemed insurmountable. But as an organization, and as a community of committed conservationists, we are working our way through these challenges with an eye to our mission of protecting the gorillas and their critical, biodiverse habitat.

Although we had to briefly halt construction on our new home, The Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, to ensure the safety of the construction team, we are now back up and running. This project is providing critical jobs for more than 500 individuals living near the forest whose livelihoods were greatly affected by the pandemic. It is more than just building us a home: It is uplifting a community at an incredibly difficult moment in time, creating a future where both people and wildlife can thrive.

While 2020 wasn’t exactly the year I’d hoped and planned for, I look back now and take pride in all we accomplished despite the hurdles we faced. I am grateful to you, our incredible donors, who stepped up to help us during was no doubt a difficult period in your own lives.

We owe many thanks to you, our partners. In a year when it sometimes seemed like nothing was possible, everything was possible because of you.

Read on to learn more about our accomplishments in 2020.

President& CEO/Chief Scientific Officer

Our Impact

Our Four Pillars

Daily Protection

We’ve been protecting gorillas for 53 years, and we’re proud to report that in 2020, our teams in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo didn’t miss a day in the forest despite multiple challenges we faced due to COVID-19. We had to take extraordinary steps to protect both our staff and the gorillas, who, like humans, are susceptible to the virus. Despite these challenges, we actually increased our protection work last year, with more anti-poaching patrols, more snares dismantled and more land area covered by our trackers.

In both Rwanda and the DRC, our work this year had a major impact.


2 Anti-Poaching Patrol Teams Hired

ZERO Gorillas Were Caught in Snares

2,200 Snares Removed

Doubling of Anti-Poaching Patrols

Twice As Many Snares Removed As In 2019

Daily Protection Area Increased By 36%

Greetings. I am Jean Paul (JP) Hirwa, gorilla program manager in Rwanda. I wanted to say on behalf of all of us, thank you for your support during this difficult time. While the COVID-19 outbreak is going to have long lasting repercussions on us and in the communities we support, we have been able to weather this storm because of your unyielding commitment.

I also wanted to let you know that the gorillas are doing well—we have not missed a day of protecting them. The situation is challenging, but we are doing our best. Despite working in rotations that require us to be separated from our families for weeks at a time, we remain committed to our mission. And we remain hopeful for the Fossey Fund and the future of gorillas.

JP and the entire Fossey Fund


One of our four pillars is to conduct the critical science needed to develop effective conservation strategies. We add to our 50+-year dataset on gorillas every day as our scientists work to research not only gorillas but the other plants and animals that are critical to the survival of gorillas and their forest homes.

17% of papers led by African staff/scientists (average in some journals is just 2%)

Our research on inter-group gorilla relationships made the #AlmetricTop100 viewed scientific studies in 2020 – #58 out of 3.4 million pagers

24 academic papers produced

“Back in camp, I reflect on the forest I have seen around me. This home to the Grauer’s gorilla is also host to other near-mythical mammals, including chimpanzees, giant pangolins and a variety of antelope. It harbors exciting bird species, such as the Bates’ paradise flycatcher and white-crested hornbill. It contains giant trees and is full of marvelously adapted insects. But more than a gathering of organisms, this forest showcases what a tropical rainforest is all about: being a complex web of interactions.”

—Dr. Yntze van der Hoek, biodiversity researcher, Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund

Training Future Leaders

We are committed to training the future leaders of Africa to address the conservation challenges of today and tomorrow. We mentor university students, offer internships and provide scholarships for our staff to pursue both university and graduate school training. Our support helps up-and-coming scientists to develop their professional skills, which not only helps these individual students but builds the profession as a whole, lifting up conservationists in Rwanda and the DRC and strengthening the entire scientific field. This leads to better future scientific outcomes and fits perfectly with our mission of “helping people, saving gorillas.”

3 students who worked with us published their senior thesis research

Provided financial support to 13 Fossey Fund staff members for their undergraduate and graduate degrees

Supported 68 students from three universities as they completed their senior theses or took research and internship projects in our laboratories

“I would like to thank the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, Karisoke Research Center and Cleveland Metroparks Zoo for the outstanding support you delivered to me and my [University of Rwanda] colleagues during our undergraduate studies through teachings, advanced trainings and financial support. That support helped me to shape my future and choose my career path.

—Elie Sinayitutse, University of Rwanda

Helping Communities

At the Fossey Fund we take a people-centered approach to conservation. We know that conservation doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and without the support of local communities, we cannot save the gorillas or protect their habitat. The COVID-19 pandemic put exceptional pressures on these communities in 2020, and our work to end food insecurity and increase livelihood opportunities became more critical than ever.

Our programs helped more than 16,000 people living near the gorilla habitat in Rwanda and the DRC.

We provided 4,000 pounds of food and supplies to 34 ex-poachers so that they could feed their families without hunting

Our community outreach this year has focused on food security, education and livelihood initiatives.  Our programs helped more than 15,000 people living near the gorilla habitat in Rwanda

We reached 19,824 individuals through our program activities in the DRC

38 of the local secondary students for whom we are paying school fees graduated and passed their government exams

We distributed avocado and other food-producing trees to more than 6,000 families

We worked with 30 families in the DRC on activities including animal husbandry, pisciculture, farming and agroforestry

I am very happy to have bean stakes and firewood from these trees, which were planted by my children. I learned from my children how important it is to conserve the park. For me, there is no need to go into the park for cutting trees.”

—Vestine Nyirandikubwimana, mother of three nature club students

Stories of Impact

The Fossey Fund in the News


Despite the challenges COVID-19 threw our way in 2020, our Ellen DeGeneres Campus is still scheduled to open in 2021! The Ellen Campus represents an important investment in the local communities near Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda—an investment made more important when coronavirus brought tourism, and the accompanying income, to a crashing halt.

600+ individuals employed

30% of leadership roles are held by women

Goal of 250,000 native plants propagated


97% of staff is Rwandan


30% of workforce is female

270 individual training sessions on topics such as conservation, health and safety, good construction practices

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