Laurie Holloway, [email protected]
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
PORTIA DE ROSSI SURPRISES WIFE ELLEN DEGENERES
WITH AMAZING BIRTHDAY GIFT TO DIAN FOSSEY GORILLA FUND
Donation will help create Ellen DeGeneres Campus in Rwanda for scientists working to protect endangered mountain gorillas
Link to Ellen Show clip: http://dfgfi.org/2nwBOHg
Visuals available here: http://dfgfi.org/2rVSgq5
– Gift presentation to Ellen DeGeneres at Ellen Show (credit: Michael Rozman/Warner Bros.); mountain gorillas in Rwanda; Dian Fossey photo; Fossey Fund CEO Tara Stoinski.
– B-roll of Rwanda gorillas
ATLANTA (Feb. 1, 2018) – Television superstar Ellen DeGeneres has received a stunning 60th birthday surprise from her wife, actress Portia de Rossi – an incredibly generous gift to help build a permanent home in Rwanda for an organization that’s worked to protect endangered mountain gorillas for 50 years.
The Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund will be a purpose-built facility for scientists helping to save one of the world’s most at-risk species, work made famous decades ago by visionary scientist Dian Fossey. Just 880 mountain gorillas remain in the mist-shrouded mountains of Rwanda and the neighboring countries of Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Ellen’s always been a huge admirer of Dian Fossey and her work with the gorillas,” de Rossi said. “Ellen shares Dian’s dedication to animals and the bravery in how Dian lived her life. And now their names will share a home dedicated to saving these animals.”
She surprised DeGeneres, whose birthday was Jan. 26, during an emotional taping of The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
“I’ve always been passionate about helping animals,” DeGeneres said. “Nobody knows this more than my wife, and she knew the exact right gift to give me. These gorillas are so incredible and so closely linked to us, sharing 98 percent of our DNA. There are only 880 of these majestic creatures left on this planet. I’m beyond excited to get to work with the Fossey Fund to support their work and help protect these amazing animals.”
The Fossey Fund is “humbled and honored” by the opportunity provided by the gift, said president and CEO Tara Stoinski, Ph.D.
“It’s impossible to overstate what this remarkable news means for the protection of these magnificent animals,” said Stoinski, who is also the non-profit’s chief scientific officer. “We have continued Dian’s legacy for 50 years, and this new campus will serve as a brilliant focal point for our efforts to protect wild gorillas over the next decades.”
For the surprise reveal, which aired today, de Rossi recorded a heartfelt message over images of the Fossey Fund’s work deep in the misty mountains of Rwanda.
“Ellen, you will carry on Dian’s legacy by giving them a permanent home in Rwanda,” de Rossi said. “Now, you will join Dian as a protector and champion of these amazing animals, the mountain gorillas.”
DeGeneres has always said the person she’d most like to interview would be Dian Fossey, according to her wife.
As a girl, DeGeneres devoured every word of a January 1970 cover story on Fossey in National Geographic that detailed how she set up a camp in the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda in 1967.
Fossey named the camp Karisoke, after nearby Mt. Karisimbi and Mt. Bisoke, and immediately began studying several dozen gorillas, standing alone in her determination to protect them. Karisoke has since become the world’s centerpiece for gorilla research and conservation, producing much of our scientific knowledge about gorillas.
It’s remained a lifelong appreciation for DeGeneres. In a 2016 exchange on Twitter, she was asked what she wanted to be when she was a girl. Her answer: a gorilla.
Fossey’s book, “Gorillas in the Mist,” and the Hollywood film based on it immortalized her pioneering work and legacy. Actress Sigourney Weaver starred in the film, which was nominated for five Oscars at the 61st Academy Awards in 1988. Weaver remains committed to the Fossey Fund, serving as honorary chairman of the non-profit’s Board of Directors.
The Fossey Fund’s critical mission
Fossey was murdered in 1985 in her mountain cabin at the camp, but her work
continued through the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, which was established by Fossey herself to raise money to support her conservation efforts.
The Fossey Fund works with the two subspecies of eastern gorillas, the mountain gorilla in Rwanda and the Grauer’s gorilla in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mountain gorillas are one of the most critically endangered animals on earth. Threats to their survival include their small population size, disease, poaching, and human encroachment on their habitat.
Yet there is cause for hope. Today, mountain gorillas are the only wild ape whose numbers are rising, with twice as many as when Fossey began her research.
The Fossey Fund works to ensure the survival of wild gorillas in four key ways: providing daily boots-on-the-ground protection; cutting-edge scientific study on the gorillas and their ecosystems; training the next generation of African conservationists; and helping communities near the gorillas’ habitats thrive.
While not yet finalized, plans for the Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund currently call for a multi-acre project in the shadow of Fossey’s beloved Volcanoes National Park.
The campus will allow the non-profit to expand its science, research and conservation activities; enhance its educational programs; and engage people from Rwanda and the world to join the effort on behalf of wild gorillas. Its purpose-built design will include laboratories, classrooms, meeting space, library, an interactive public exhibit focusing on Fossey’s work, and housing for visiting researchers and students.
The center will not only build on the Fossey Fund’s successful fieldwork, it also will strengthen its deep connection to Rwanda through training of the next generation of African conservationists.
In Rwanda, many of the Fossey Fund’s 115 employees spend their days in the thick forest, protecting and studying gorillas. They work in partnership with the Rwandan government, which directs all conservation activities within the country, and other conservation non-governmental organizations.
The campus will support the Rwandan government’s strategic priorities, serving as an important hub for the government’s newly established Center for Excellence in Biodiversity Conservation and Natural Resource Management.
“In her final journal, Dian wrote, ‘When you realize the value of all life, you dwell less on what is past and concentrate on the preservation of the future,’ ” Stoinski said. “Her words are so powerful to everyone working in conservation and, in particular, those of us who are privileged to carry on her legacy.
“This gift will be a spark which draws the brightest minds for the benefit of science, wild gorilla protection, and collaboration with the people who share their home with these animals.”
MASS Design Group, which has offices in Boston and Kigali, Rwanda, is designing the campus using sustainable architecture, local resourcing, and environmentally responsible practices.
The Fossey Fund has an excellent record of financial stewardship, with the highest rating from Charity Navigator, the principal non-profit watchdog and largest independent charity evaluator.
About the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund:
The Fossey Fund is dedicated to saving critically endangered gorillas in Africa, through daily protection, scientific study, education, and helping local communities. For more information, visit gorillafund.org.