January 16, 2012
The primatologist responsible for demystifying gorillas, DIAN FOSSEY (1932-85) revealed the real animals behind our King Kong cultural curtain, and painstakingly documented their generally peaceful societies for 18 years. A student of anthropologist Louis Leakey, Fossey (like colleagues Jane Goodall and Birutė Galdikas) set out to study her chosen great ape by embedding herself, notebook in hand, along the gorillas’ societal margins, tolerated and then accepted by her study subjects. But also like Goodall, Fossey was moved from observation to activism. Mountain gorilla societies are embedded within ours; extinction threatens from habitat reduction, poaching, and the collateral damage of civil unrest and war. Featured on the cover of National Geographic in 1970, Fossey used her careful science and international stature to raise awareness and attempt to reverse the gorillas’ accelerating decline. She refused to leave her station despite local political pressures and increasing complications from emphysema, which forced her in later years to hike with oxygen tanks. In the end her activism, or possibly just her presence, enraged the wrong person, and she was murdered one night in her camp. The crime remains unsolved; the mist gathers.
READ MORE about members of the Postmodernist generation (1924-33).