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The Karisoke Research Center

Founded by Dian Fossey, Sept. 24, 1967

Dian Fossey Karisoke 1964

 “Little did I know then that by setting up two small tents in the wilderness of the Virungas I had launched the beginnings of what was to become an internationally renowned research station eventually to be utilized by students and scientists from many countries.”

Dian Fossey, Gorillas in the Mist

From her first two tents, Fossey created the name “Karisoke” using the names of the nearby Mt. Karisimbi and Mt. Bisoke. She eventually operated out of cabins built in the woods, and after her death the scientific work of Karisoke was carried out in a variety of rented buildings near Volcanoes National Park. 

Over time, our programs expanded to include more than protection and science and Karisoke became the name for our all our operations in Rwanda – including our work with communities and training conservationists, as well as protecting and studying the gorillas. In 2022, Karisoke’s activities moved to our new Ellen DeGeneres Campus.

55-Year Legacy

Fossey’s original objectives were to study gorilla behavior and ecology. She found herself spending days searching for and attempting to observe these elusive animals, while encountering signs that poachers and other human intruders had preceded her. And so her methods quickly expanded beyond science to include what she called “active conservation” – removing snares and discouraging illegal activities like cattle grazing in the park. Read Dian’s bio here

Thus began a 55-year legacy of the study and protection of gorillas, now one of the longest-running field studies of any animal species, the source of much of our knowledge about gorillas, and a successful model that has contributed to bringing mountain gorillas back from the brink of extinction. The ongoing story of our work to save mountain gorillas is one of enormous perseverance, courage and vision, on the part of hundreds of trackers, researchers, partners and supporters from all over the world. 

The Karisoke Research Center today is a program of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, with more than 100 expert gorilla trackers protecting about half of Rwanda’s mountain gorilla families every day. It is also the world’s centerpiece for gorilla conservation and science, with hundreds of scientific publications based on data collected at Karisoke. It holds one of the largest databases on any wild animal, and operates education and community programs that reach tens of thousands of people in the region each year.

In addition, the initial focus of Karisoke’s scientific efforts has been expanded to include research on the biodiversity of the region, since the gorillas’ habitat includes many other important species of animals and plants. The program has also become a center for training the next generation of conservationists and scientists in Rwanda. The Fossey Fund hosts hundreds of local university students each year for field courses, and training in conservation and scientific methods.

Dian Fossey looking at slides of gorillas she studied