2020 Annual Report

Tara Stoinski - Fossey Fund 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.

Tara Stoinski


President & CEO/Chief Scientific Officer

Our Impact

Our Four Pillars

Gorilla 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.

Jean Paul Hirwa - Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund LeadershipGreetings. 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.

“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.”

“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.

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

Baby Boom: Naming the Babies of 2020

Nature Clubs Plant More Than 35,000 Tree Seedlings

Fossey Fund and Partners Join Forces to Support Rwanda’s Newest Scientists

Fossey Fund Hosts Eight Secondary School Interns in Nkuba

Helping Communities: Providing Aid to the Gorilla Guardians

Campus News Update – September 16, 2020

The Fossey Fund in the News

How the hard lesson of Covid could help gorillas
"Covid-19 has made abundantly clear that our assault on the world's biodiversity is also an assault on ourselves. It has proven that we can no longer afford to dismiss the problems scientists and conservationists uncover in faraway places."
Read More
A crowded mountain can make silverback gorillas more violent.
"This work draws on such a beautiful, well curated data set - it's a very impressive effort that really shows the importance of long-term research."
Read More
How Coronavirus—and Lack of Tourism—Impact East Africa's Gorillas and Communities
"The biggest risk from tourism is disease risk, but tourism is such an important source of conservation dollars, not just for the gorillas but for so much of Africa," says Tara Stoinski, president, CEO and chief scientific officer of The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, the world's largest and longest-running organization dedicated to gorilla conservation.
Read More
Executive Profile: How Tara Stoinski fights to protect gorillas through the Fossey Fund
"We work very hard to communicate the importance of gorillas, to help people to understand that, even though gorillas live half a world away from Atlanta, they are critical to our own survival."
Read More
Previous slide
Next slide

The Future is Near: Our New Ellen Campus

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.