When Dian Fossey arrived at Volcanoes National Park in 1967, the park guards were underpaid and lacked the training and equipment needed for their dangerous job. The forest was also under pressure from poachers, cattle grazing, tree cutting and other human activities.
Fossey was determined to destroy traps, confront poachers and chase away cattle. She used her own funds to supply the park guards with boots, uniforms, food and additional salaries, and even hired some of her own anti-poachers. She referred to her tactics as “active conservation,” convinced that without immediate and decisive action other long-term conservation goals would be useless, since there would eventually be nothing left to save.
Fossey’s conflicts with poachers intensified following the tragic killing of her favorite gorilla, Digit, in 1977. Digit died from multiple stab wounds while defending his family, who escaped safely. Fossey’s methods soon became controversial, as she attempted to frighten the poachers with simulations of witchcraft and threats of violence.
Dian Fossey’s Appeal to the Public Lives On
After Digit’s death, Fossey also began a campaign to gain the public’s support for gorilla conservation, founding The Digit Fund for that purpose. She had already attracted attention to the cause through her articles in National Geographic. Following her tragic murder in 1985, The Digit Fund was renamed the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.
The success of Fossey’s book Gorillas in the Mist also brought the plight of the mountain gorilla to the world’s attention. In 1988, a movie based on the book reached large audiences. Sigourney Weaver, who played Dian Fossey in the movie, became the honorary chair of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. With the success of both the book and the movie, more people now understand that gorillas are “gentle giants,” with much to teach us and the right to survive in their forest home.