Dian Fossey Google Doodle Honors Gorilla Expert

Today would have been her 82nd birthday.

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National Geographic Society / AP

Primate expert Dian Fossey sits with mountain gorillas in the Virunga mountains in Rwanda in 1982.

Correction Appended, January 16, 2014

Today’s Google Doodle honors American zoologist Dian Fossey (1932-1985), who was a leading authority on mountain gorillas in Africa.

The San Francisco native started out as an occupational therapist working with disabled children. But in 1963, she traveled to eastern Africa and met anthropologist Louis Leakey, who introduced her to mountain gorillas. She was intrigued, but returned to her job in America to pay off the bank loans for the trip. Leakey flew to the U.S. to convince her to move to Africa and study the primates. And, to test her commitment, he recommended she get her appendix removed because medical facilities were far, according to Fossey. Feeling guilty, he backtracked, but she got the appendectomy.

She started living among mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1966. But when a civil war broke out, a “rather daring escape to Rwanda was made in a truck named Lily with two pet chickens, and a pistol hidden in a box of Kleenex,” TIME reported in 1983.

(PHOTOS: The Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda)

Nicknamed “Nyiramachabelli” by Rwandans, meaning “the woman who lives alone on the mountain,” Fossey explained her strategy for relating to the primates in National Geographic:

I discovered that these powerful but shy and gentle animals accepted and responded to my attentions when I acted like a gorilla. So I learned to scratch and groom and beat my chest. I imitated my subjects’ vocalizations (hoots, grunts, and belches), munched the foliage they ate, kept low to the ground and deliberate in movement—in short, showed that my curiosity about them matched theirs toward me.

Her favorite was Digit. In 1977, poachers decapitated him, and Walter Cronkite announced the death of the beloved primate on the CBS Evening News. Fossey founded Digit Fund, now the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. To raise awareness about conservation efforts, she wrote Gorillas in the Mist in 1983, detailing her 13 years of research.

And she was so dedicated to campaigning against poachers that, “in 1980 she reportedly abducted the child of a local woman suspected of stealing a baby gorilla, then offered to exchange hostages,” per a 1986 TIME article.

Fossey was found dead at 53 on Dec. 26, 1985, mysteriously hacked to death by a machete at her base camp in the Virunga Mountains. She was buried in a graveyard that she established for the bodies of gorillas.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the purpose of the graveyard where Dian Fossey was buried. It was for gorillas.

PHOTOS: LIFE Goes on a ‘Gorilla Hunt,’ 1951

18 comments
mfoltzgr2
mfoltzgr2

oop!! I apologize! I gave the wrong info! It looks like the google doodle today was done by Mike Dutton, another google doodler who I will now follow with great admiration! Bravo Sir!

vutvnews
vutvnews

Report on the death of digit was on CBS Evening news of Feb 3, 1978.

BenCoffman
BenCoffman

Who did this artwork for google? I want to look him/her up!


opinionatedone
opinionatedone

I have researched Dian in college.  She became crazy.  She would take african people hostage and torture them if she *thought that they might be poachers.  She was also said to be racist.  She had an abortion but claimed to love children. She slept with a married man and tried to get him to leave his wife.  All of her earnings and money went to her family, she didnt set it up so that her foundations and trusts that she worked for, started, and supported during her life got any of the money.  She tried to set it up, but it didnt get there.  So YAY google.  Great person to honor.  I am all for animal rights and I am all for an interesting read, but this is not a person that deserved to be honored on your famous doodle.

david2242
david2242

I wonder how many monkeys miss her or attended her funeral?

NancyHunter
NancyHunter

WOW David2242, where is your compassion??????

david2242
david2242

What a wasted life. I guess with her looks she could only get monkeys to play with her. She went from helping living human boys and girls to living with monkeys. What a pitifull joke.

sacharbon
sacharbon

Fossey was not buried with the poachers.  She was buried in the graveyard she established for her beloved gorillas.  Correction of the article needs to be made.

iagardener
iagardener

I believe there is a significant error in this article in this statement:

"She was buried in a graveyard that she established for the bodies of poachers."

It is my understanding that she was buried in a graveyard that contains the bodies of poached gorillas.  NOT the poachers.

I hope the author makes the correction.

lb22az
lb22az

"She was buried in a graveyard that she established for the bodies of poachers."  Poachers or gorillas?

TonyTran
TonyTran

@opinionatedone  How can you even say that? She wanted all the money she had and from the film "Gorillas in the Mist" to go to anti-poaching. Her mother successfully fought against the Will.


caterpillarhome
caterpillarhome

@opinionatedone BRAVO to you! Thank you for saying it. So many people I think are more enamoured by sigourney weavers portrayal then the truth of her. She was a disgusting racist and abuser...Totally glad she loved animals but so did hitler..

david2242
david2242

@NancyHunter I am very saddened by the horrific death of this woman but my opinion is strictly with what she did with her life. None of my business but just my feelings on the subject

ctshivalst306
ctshivalst306

@david2242 Actually, Mr. Armchair warrior, Dian Fossey did help humans, such as her friend Rosamond Carr, who went on to establish the Imbabasi Orphanage in Rwanda, Dr. Fossey's foundation also does significant community work in several African nations, such as in the DRC's Northern Kivju province, and Bisate, in Rwanda, offering scholarships, and establishing medicals centers and schools for children orphaned by AIDS, 


And by the way, it's shocking that a man who seems so acutely aware of his genius, is unaware that Gorillas are apes, like us, only smarter than petty little trolls, such as you. Incidentally, how many millions of "living boys and girls" have you saved while playing almighty judge of what constitutes a useful life? There, see? You got some attention, and yes, I am a graduate Biology student, working on getting a Master's in Primatology, I also do volunteer work with Brig Brothers Big Sisters. I meant to just read the article, but then I felt charitable, so now you can go back to festering in your Mommy's basement, no need to thank me. Now go and keep pretending you are God. Thanks for the laugh.

amanita
amanita

@david2242 I don't think you have any right to decide what constitutes a "wasted life", or gives life meaning, nor did she live with monkeys.  She was a (human) ape, who wen't from helping boy (human apes) to helping gorrilla (apes).  She did not dedicate her life to helping monkeys which shared a last common ancestor with apes 25-30 million years ago.