Building a Future for Gorillas

The Ellen DeGeneres Campus
of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund

Our history, Our need, Our future


The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund is the world’s longest running and largest organization dedicated solely to gorilla conservation and has seen many historic milestones over the years. But Feb. 12, 2019, marked one of our most important yet, as we broke ground on a new permanent home for our work. Our Karisoke Research Center was founded by Dian Fossey in 1967, starting with just two tents in the forest, and has operated from impermanent and inadequate spaces ever since. But that is changing.

Since Dian Fossey’s time, we have worked to ensure a future for gorillas by developing a people-centered approach to conservation and dramatically scaling up our activities. And this approach is working – mountain gorillas are the only great ape species increasing in number and are one of the world’s few conservation success stories.

However, with just over 1,000 mountain gorillas left on the planet, their future is anything but secure.  They, and their close cousins the critically endangered Grauer’s gorillas, which we also protect, are at risk from disease, human encroachment, climate change and poaching. That’s why we are embarking to create a conservation center that will dramatically impact and sustain the continuity of our programs, operations, and ultimate outcomes for gorillas and people.


Our capacity to make a continued impact is limited by very practical yet solvable constraints.

Lack of a purpose-built facility.

Daily protection area increased by 36%

Lack of close proximity to national park & communities. 

Lack of adequate space & equipment.

Lack of properly curated home for the Dian Fossey legacy.

And so, in 2017, we committed to building a permanent facility that would enable us to expand our programs, move us physically closer to the gorillas and communities we serve, and increase our impact. Through a lead gift by Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi and the design talent of the award winning MASS Design Inc, we launched the building of what will be a transformative space for our 200 staff in Africa and the many stakeholders – students, community members, government and conservation partners, tourists – with whom we work.

Our new Ellen DeGeneres Campus demonstrates our commitment to enduring conservation in the region.  It will serve as a place to transform people into conservationists – to excite and activate them around the difference that one individual can make and what we can accomplish when we all work together.

The Ellen Campus is set on 12 acres and includes three main buildings – research and education centers and a public exhibit.  Within these spaces we will have:

State-of-the-art laboratories

Computer lab and library

Classrooms for educational programming

Flexible office and meeting space

A dynamic public exhibit to educate visitors about gorillas and the importance of conservation

Onsite accommodations for visiting students and scientists

Its eco-friendly design reflects our conservation mission and includes: reforestation of more than 250,000 native plant species, green roofs, local material use to decrease carbon footprint, rainwater harvesting for greywater reuse, and a natural waste water treatment center.


The Ellen Campus represents our future.  It will be an enduring physical embodiment of our mission, capacity, and history that will dramatically impact and sustain the continuity of our programs, operations, and ultimate outcomes for gorillas and people. It will be a significant force in training the next generation of African scientists to address the conservation challenges of the future and will ensure that gorillas don’t go extinct, as was predicted by Dian Fossey, but are with us for generations to come.

Construction on the campus began earlier this year and we hope to open in summer of 2021.


Promoting gender equity through a 35% female construction workforce and 50% female leadership.


Training in fields like masonry and carpentry to increase Rwanda’s skilled work force.


Ensuring the project impacts people’s daily lives and increases their understanding of the importance of conservation.

Avocado seeds


Eco-friendly design and reforestation of previous agricultural land with more than 250,000 native species.

2020 provided financial support


Investing in the communities and people surrounding our new home.

Campus Impact

The Fossey Fund’s mission is Helping People, Saving Gorillas.  It was critical to us that this mission translate to the building of the campus as well, that it makes a measurable difference on the future of conservation in the region and in the lives of the people who live near the gorillas.   Working with MASS Design, we have identified five key areas of impact—the 5 Es as we call them—and will be measuring these through the lifespan of the project: Economy, Environment, Equity, Education, and Emotion.

Campus Stories

Portia Gives Ellen One of the Best Birthday Presents Ever

Gorilla Game Changers Trailer

February Construction Update

Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund Time Lapse

Local Fabrication Makes a Green Difference

The construction of our Ellen DeGeneres Campus continues.

Sourcing and propagating of plants continues at the Campus nursery.

Our team visited the campus on World Gorilla Day

Roadmap to Ribbon Cutting

September 2017
January 2018
April 2018
May 2018
Fall 2018
February 2019
June 2019
January 2020
March 2020
May 2020
Fall/Summer 2021

Virtual Tour

Photo & Video Gallery

Get Involved

Dian Fossey gave her life for this cause. Many others have followed in her footsteps and dedicated their lives to saving gorillas. Like her, some of our own staff have also lost their lives in the process. The opportunity exists now to make sure that the next generation will be able to carry forward this work and this passion, with stronger support, security, and resources. Conservation needs more heroes. We hope that you will be one of them.


We still have money to raise to put the finishing touches on our new Ellen Campus. For more information on leadership giving opportunities, please contact Shari Henning at [email protected].

Support for this project will…

For more information on The Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund,
please visit our MORE INFO page.