Tara Stoinski, Ph.D., a leading primatologist and conservationist, has become president and CEO of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International as of Oct. 1, 2014. The Fossey Fund continues the work of Dr. Dian Fossey, the lengendary scientist who pioneered the study of endangered mountain gorillas during the 1960s.
Stoinski, who will also hold the additional title of Chief Scientific Officer, had served part-time with the Fossey Fund since 2002, in the role of chief scientist and later as vice president. At the same time, she also served as director of primate research at Zoo Atlanta, where the Fossey Fund has its U.S. headquarters. Stoinski will succeed Clare Richardson, who guided the Fossey Fund as president and CEO for 19 years. Richardson will now take on the title of president emeritus, strategic initiatives officer.
Stoinski is a widely published expert in primate behavior, involving research projects in Rwanda, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Brazil, as well as multiple zoos across the United States. In 1994, she began her Ph.D. program in psychology at the Georgia Institute of Technology and soon after began studying gorillas, focusing initially on male gorilla social dynamics. Since then, Stoinski has published on a variety of topics related to gorilla behavior, conservation, cognition, reproductive strategies, and life history.
In addition to her 20 years of primatological research, Stoinski has been an adjunct faculty member at Emory University and Georgia Tech and has helped guide many local students toward careers in primatology, animal behavior, conservation, and related subjects. Stoinski is also a leader in the global primate conservation world, including serving on the executive committee of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Section on Great Apes, chairing the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Ape Taxon Advisory Group, and serving as a conservation advisor for AZA’s Gorilla Species Survival Plan.
When asked if she feels that she is following in Dian Fossey’s footsteps, the Fossey Fund’s new president and CEO had this to say: “ Dian Fossey was truly a pioneer, going to Africa on her own almost 50 years ago to study a species that was considered aggressive and dangerous. Mountain gorillas might not remain on this planet if it was not for her work. So I do not feel that those are footsteps I could ever fill, but I do feel incredibly lucky to be doing what I’m doing, and I feel like Dian would be proud of where we are today and that her beloved mountain gorillas are a true conservation success story.”
Fossey’s work was portrayed by Sigourney Weaver in the Oscar-nominated movie Gorilla in the Mist, based on Fossey’s book, which chronicles her career and life studying and protecting gorillas. Today, nearly 50 years since Fossey arrived in Africa, this work has expanded greatly and is responsible for helping save the mountain gorilla population, through daily, on-the-ground protection and monitoring, scientific study and collaboration with local communities.