First Rwandan Appointed Karisoke Director, Succeeding Dr. Katie Fawcett
Tara Stoinski, Ph.D, New Vice President, Chief Scientist
For the first time, a Rwandan national has been named director of the Karisoke™ Research Center in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, with the promotion of Felix Ndagijimana. He succeeds Katie Fawcett, Ph.D., who directed the center since 2002. At the same time, Tara Stoinski, Ph.D., has been named vice president and chief scientist for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.
Ndagijimana’s appointment was announced on an historic date — Jan. 16, 2012 — which would have been the 80th birthday of Dr. Dian Fossey, who founded the Karisoke™ Research Center in 1967 and later the Fossey Fund, originally the Digit Fund, which has operated the center since her death.
“The Fossey Fund has focused on supporting students and young scientists in the region for many years,” says Fund president and CEO Clare Richardson. “It is encouraging to see staff like Felix taking on such important leadership roles in conservation and science.”
As director, Ndagijimana will oversee all of Karisoke’s research and protection programs for mountain gorillas and other species in Volcanoes National Park, as well as health and education programs in the communities surrounding the park, administering a staff of more than 100, including trackers, anti-poachers, research assistants, and administrative personnel. He will help Karisoke’s field staff meet new challenges as the gorilla groups continue to change, and advance plans for Karisoke’s future.
“I am greatly honored to be chosen for this important role,” says Ndagijimana. “I look forward to leading the dedicated team of trackers, scientists, and administrative personnel at Karisoke in continuing the legacy of Dian Fossey and our leadership in gorilla conservation. And I am very excited to build on the achievements of the past directors of Karisoke and to continue working with the Fossey Fund’s partners, both in Rwanda and elsewhere.”
Ndagijimana began working at Karisoke™ as a research assistant in 2004. Through a scholarship created by Fossey Fund supporter Mary Ann Parker in memory of her son John Eric Peckham, he earned a master’s degree in primate conservation from Oxford Brookes University (UK). He was named deputy director in 2008 after completing his master’s, and has been responsible for overseeing field activities and for expanding the research programs.
Ndagijimana also holds a bachelor of science degree in microbiology from the University of Mysore, India. He has represented the Fossey Fund at numerous gatherings, including International Primatological Society Congress meetings in Uganda and Scotland; the 2010 Poverty and Conservation Learning Group workshop; and at annual Kwita Izina gorilla-naming ceremonies in Kinigi, Rwanda. He also served as a field assistant for the production of the critically acclaimed PBS Nature program, “The Gorilla King.”
Katie Fawcett, Ph.D., directed Karisoke for 10 years
Ndagijimana succeeds Katie Fawcett, Ph.D., who served as director of Karisoke since 2002. “I am gratified that during my time with the Fossey Fund and the Karisoke Research Center I was able to expand both the scope and scale of our operations, to meet Rwanda’s evolving conservation challenges,” says Fawcett. “A key focus of my effort was training and capacity building for both scientific and administrative staff, to increase the center’s efficiency. It has been a professional honor and a personal pleasure to have worked with the Fossey Fund, and in particular the Karisoke staff, for the past 10 years.”
When Dr. Fawcett took the reins in 2002, Karisoke was still recovering from years of civil war. She spearheaded programs that rebuilt local clinics and schools in the communities near the gorillas’ habitat, upgraded research capacity and expanded research to the Park’s other unique species. During her tenure many scientists from around the world published studies based on their research at Karisoke and the Center’s long-term database, including two books of essays. She also continued the Center’s “active conservation,” and helped direct two censuses which showed significant growth in the mountain gorilla population. By 2011 the staff had grown from 28 to over 100 members from a wide variety of cultural and academic backgrounds, and funding grew from less than $100,000 to more than one million dollars per year.
Fawcett earned her Ph.D. in zoology from Edinburgh University in 2000 with a dissertation on female chimpanzee behavior based on her research in Uganda. Since coming to Karisoke, she has written and co-authored many studies of mountain gorilla behavior and conservation issues, She is currently an honorary research fellow for the University of Sterling, U.K.
Tara Stoinski, Ph.D., new Fossey Fund vice president and chief scientist
Tara Stoinski, Ph.D., the Fossey Fund’s Pat and Forest McGrath Chair of Research and Conservation, who joined our team a decade ago, is taking on new leadership responsibilities as the Fund’s vice president and chief scientist. Stoinski will work with staff and board to further define the organization’s scientific mission, to help increase mentoring of African staff, and to increase international collaborations.
Stoinski, who is based in Atlanta but travels frequently to Africa, has studied primate cognition, social behavior and reproductive strategies. Last March she co-authored a major study, published in the journal Science, comparing aging patterns in humans and other primates. She also is the director of primate research at Zoo Atlanta, and has adjunct faculty positions in the psychology departments of Emory University, Georgia State University, and the Georgia Institute of Technology.
“I am thrilled to be able to help direct the scientific programs of the Fossey Fund and to continue to work with our amazing staff in the field to further our understanding of gorillas, their habitats, and the threats to their survival,” says Stoinski. “As the longest-running gorilla research program in the world, Karisoke has already contributed extensively to what we know about gorillas. But every day we are reminded that we still have a lot to learn about these magnificent animals, and I’m honored to be a part of that learning experience.”
Stoinski serves in numerous leadership positions within the zoo and conservation communities. She is an executive committee member of the IUCN Primate Specialist Group’s Section for Great Apes; the chair of the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s (AZA) Ape Taxon Advisory Group; vice chair of AZA’s Field Conservation Committee; and a Management Group member of the AZA Gorilla Species Survival Program. She also serves as a committee member for the American Society of Primatologists and the International Primatological Society. She earned graduate degrees from Oxford University and the Georgia Institute of Technology.