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Advancing women in science: A Fossey Fund focus

This year the United Nations International Day of Women and Girls in Science is celebrated on Feb. 11, but here at the Fossey Fund we have made the advancement of women in science a high priority for many years. After all, we were founded by a female scientist and have long been a female-led organization.

However, even more than 55 years since Dian Fossey became famous for her scientific studies of mountain gorillas, women are still significantly underrepresented in science, especially in Africa. We know that for conservation to thrive, this needs to change.

Some of our latest programs to advance women in their careers, especially in science and related fields, include the establishment of a Women in Science Education Scholarship Fund, one-to-one professional development opportunities, gender-equity training and a new women’s empowerment group.

Our efforts are working and we are proud to report that currently one-third of our research assistants are women, with many working on advanced education, publishing scientific papers and receiving international recognition for their work. For example, research assistant Marie Fidele Tuyisenge recently developed a unique field method for fecal analysis of the diets of herbivores, such as gorillas, and published her work in the Wildlife Society Bulletin. She is now pursuing a master’s degree in organismic and molecular biodiversity at the Technical University of Dresden.

Welcome to our new female trackers

And right now we are also proud to announce the addition of four female trackers to our teams in Rwanda – another conservation career that has been almost exclusively held by men. These four women all have diplomas in wildlife management and are poised to help us learn more about gorillas and other biodiversity every day, while also providing protection for their critical forest habitat.

“I’ve always been fascinated by gorillas and having the opportunity to work with them on a daily basis is a dream that came true,” says tracker Jacqueline Ntakirutimana. “I was ecstatic my first time seeing gorillas. It’s amazing how gorillas behave like humans. I know this work won’t be easy, but it will be worth it to know that I’m contributing to the conservation of these magnificent animals.”

“I am very excited to be a female tracker,” says Aline Dufitumukiza. “I know it will be a challenging job, but I’m ready for it. I’m looking forward to contributing to the conservation of gorillas and making a difference in their lives.”

Here at the Fossey Fund, our legacy of advancing women in science continues to grow and prosper. We know that our women will continue to make an enormous contribution to conservation and to science in general. Stay tuned for more stories about them as we approach International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month in March.