Gorillas in the Mist

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Gorillas in the Mist

"In the Mountain Meadow of Carl Akeley and George Schaller"

Book excerpt

By: Dian Fossey

Date: 1983

Source: Fossey, Dian. "In the Mountain Meadow of Carl Akeley and George Schaller." In Gorillas in the Mist. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1983.

About the Author: Dian Fossey (1932–1985) was an American zoologist who spent much of her career living and working among the mountain gorillas of central Africa. Fossey, living a solitary lifestyle for many years at her Karisoke Research Center in the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda, reached a vast understanding of the species by observing the gorillas' habits and gradually gaining their social acceptance. Fossey was also responsible for drawing attention to uncontrolled poaching in that region, especially through the publication of Gorillas in the Mist, a popularized account of her studies. She was found murdered at her camp by an unknown attacker in 1985.


Prior to the 1970s, gorillas were widely perceived as aggressive, dangerous creatures. Despite this reputation, Fossey, an occupational therapist in Louisville, Kentucky, deeply longed to observe these creatures in their natural setting. In 1963, she realized her dream during a seven-week safari to Zaire. During that trip, she became convinced that the gorilla was actually a peaceful, family-oriented creature.

Three years later, Fossey raised funds to return to Zaire, where she was arrested. She escaped and traveled to Uganda, then on to Rwanda where she continued her efforts. Fossey's work was characterized by her ability to become integrated into the gorilla community. By imitating the behaviors of the other gorillas, she was able to exist among them and observe their complex social structure. In 1970 she returned to England to earn her doctorate, focusing her dissertation on her work with gorillas.

The remaining years of Fossey's life were spent living among the gorillas of Africa and teaching at Cornell University. Her 1983 book Gorillas in the Mist played a pivotal role in efforts to reduce gorilla poaching in Africa.


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Fossey appeared to be an unlikely activist. Quiet and somewhat self-conscious, she once remarked that she preferred the company of gorillas to people. But her actions betrayed a deep inner determination. During her first visit to Africa, she broke her ankle. To the surprise of her hosts, she refused to shorten her trip, and completed the journey despite her injuries. She went on to spend the remainder of her life working for the preservation of gorillas and their homes.

In 1978, Fossey founded the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGFI), an organization dedicated to the conservation of gorillas and their habitats in Africa. The organization works to stop poaching, monitor gorilla activities, and educate and support local communities. Fossey's book "Gorillas in the Mist" was published in 1983. The story was made into a motion picture starring Sigourney Weaver in 1986. Fossey was killed by unknown persons in Rwanda in December, 1985. A Rwandan court convicted American wildlife researcher Wayne McGuire of the killing in absentia, however McGuire remains free and has denied any involvement in the killing.



Bedoyere, Camilla de la. No One Loved Gorillas More: Dian Fossey: Letters from the Mist. New York: National Geographic, 2005.

Hayes, Harold. The Dark Romance of Dian Fossey. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990.

Montgomery, Sy. Walking with the Great Apes: Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, Birute Galdikas. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1991.


Clark, Mike. "Gorilla Movies Bad Enough to Make Kong Run for the Hills." USA Today (January 3, 2006).

MacKenzie, Debora. "Great Apes Face Ebola Oblivion." New Scientist 188, 2524 (2005): 8.

Web sites

"Mission of DFGFI." Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. 〈http://www.gorillafund.org/003_dfgfi_frmset.html〉 (accessed March 8, 2006).

"About the International Gorilla Conservation Programme." International Gorilla Conservation Programme. 〈http://www.mountaingorillas.org/about_igcp/about_igcp.htm〉 (accessed March 8, 2006).