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Dian Fossey legacy empowers women

Our founder and one of the most well-known female scientists of our time – Dr. Dian Fossey – would have reached her 91st birthday on Jan. 16. Although she was killed in 1985, the work she began more than five decades ago is still carried out today by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. And the Fossey Fund has greatly expanded her mission to include studying the wide variety of biodiverse animals and plants that share the gorillas’ ecosystem and helping people who live near gorilla habitat.

We imagine Fossey would be surprised to learn how greatly her work has grown and what an incredible scientific legacy she has left. Perhaps she would be even more surprised to see just how many women are now actively following in her footsteps – whether becoming trackers, scientists, educators, or community and organizational leaders. 

It is interesting to note that Fossey was not the only woman whose work was first supported by famed paleontologist Dr. Louis Leakey. Leakey also helped establish Jane Goodall’s studies of chimpanzees and Birute Galdikas’ work with orangutans. These three women were sometimes called “Leakey’s Angels” or the “Trimates” and indeed they are each true heroes  –  or heroines – of conservation.

Today’s Fossey women

At the Fossey Fund today we are proud to have many women following in Fossey’s footsteps, from researchers to educators and leaders. In fact, 40% of our research assistants are women. Many are now also working on advanced degrees and receiving international recognition for their work. Nadia Niyonizeye, who became a Fossey Fund researcher in 2018 after working with us as an undergraduate and intern, was featured in a Canadian Broadcasting Company documentary about the impact of the Trimates. She is now also pursuing a master’s degree in biodiversity, wildlife and ecosystem health online through the University of Edinburgh, while also working full time with the Fossey Fund.

“I am moved by the skills and knowledge l acquired from experts and colleagues in the Fossey Fund universe, which empower me in gorillas and wildlife conservation as a whole,” says Nadia.

“I feel extremely honored to follow in Dian Fossey’s footsteps.”

Empowering women, whether in our own staff or in the communities we work with is an increasingly important goal of the Fossey Fund, says Dr. Tara Stoinski, president and CEO/chief scientist of the organization. 

“Despite the fame of Fossey and the other Trimates, women, and particularly African women, are still underrepresented in science. We are taking numerous initiatives to strengthen our programs for women in science, including establishing a scholarship fund, as well as aiming to have equal representation of women in our livelihoods and food security work that takes place in the communities living near the gorillas,” adds Stoinski. “It is wonderful to be able to extend Dian’s legacy in this special way, perhaps not one that she would have expected.”

Watch for more stories here on the fabulous Fossey Fund women, as we lead up to the International Day of Women and Girls in Science in February and  International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month in March.