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5TF: 5 Things About The History of Karisoke & Dian Fossey!

Fact 1:

Karisoke was not Dian Fossey’s first research site.

Dian Fossey first began her gorilla observations in 1966 at a site located in the Kabara meadow in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  This is where the first studies of mountain gorillas were conducted by George Schaller a few years earlier. Due to a worsening political situation in Congo, Dian Fossey was forced to leave her research site and was taken into government custody. After making it out of the Congo and into Uganda, Dian was interrogated and warned not to return to the Congo.  Though advised by the U.S. Embassy to discontinue her research, Fossey decided to go against the warning and continue her work on the Rwandan side of the mountains. On September 24, 1967, Dian Fossey established the Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda’s Virunga Mountains.

Construction at Kabara

Fact 2

The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International was started by Fossey herself, under the name The Digit Fund.

The Digit Fund was established 41 years ago in 1978. Dian named the organization after one of her favorite gorillas, Digit, who had died at the hands of poachers in the previous year. Fossey first met Digit in 1967 when he was only a few years old. They ended up forming a special bond and she gave him the name Digit when she noticed that one of his fingers was injured, likely from a poacher’s trap. In Digit’s memory, Fossey created the Digit Fund to provide support for gorilla protection. After Dian Fossey was murdered in 1985, the organization’s name was changed to what it is now in her memory.

Dian & Digit

Fact 3

Our research center is named Karisoke after Dian Fossey’s research camp, but it is not located in the original site.

The original Karisoke research site sat in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda between two volcanoes– Mt. Karisimbi and Mt. Bisoke.. Fossey combined the two names to make Karisoke. The original Karisoke site consisted of a tent and over time was built out to include small cabins.  However, since the 1990s, Karisoke has been located outside the park in rented facilities in the town of Musanze. We are now in the process of building our first permanent, purpose built home in Rwanda, which will be located near the edge of the park https://dfgfi.org/new-campus. Karisoke’s activities today still include Dian’s original work of protection and science as well as our education and community outreach programs.. Take a look at the before and after pictures!   

Fact 4

 Fossey’s original team consisted of her, a small number of trackers and research assistants, and visiting scientists.

Today, our team is Rwanda is made up of 130 individuals who work across our four pillars: protecting gorillas, conducting science, training future leaders in conservation, and helping local communities. Every day, our trackers go out into the field and both provide direct protection and collect critical data to further inform conservation efforts. We also have dedicated anti-poaching teams who support the work of the Rwandan government to minimize illegal activities in the forest.   One of the biggest activities they undertake is removing snares; the snares aren’t set for gorillas but unfortunately, gorillas can get caught in them.

Fact 5

Fossey originally came to Africa to study the behavior and ecology of mountain gorillas.

However, as Fossey spent her time tracking the mountain gorillas through their habitat, she regularly encountered signs that poachers and other human intruders had preceded her. After witnessing the poaching of her beloved gorillas and the destruction of their habitat, her work expanded to include active conservation activities. Fossey fought back by destroying traps and confronting poachers, as well as raising funds to hire staff to conduct anti-poaching patrols. Today, the Fossey Fund continues her original work of scientific research and active conservation, and is the world’s longest running and largest organization dedicated entirely to the conservation of gorillas.