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Dian Fossey Lesson for Kids: Biography & Facts

Instructor: Jenny Homer

Jenny has masters' degrees in public health and public administration.

This lesson talks about Dian Fossey, a brave woman who left her home in the United States to go live with mountain gorillas in Africa. Find out about her work and life.

Who Is Dian Fossey?

How does a person get to know and understand wild animals? Most of us might watch a movie or Google it. But for Dian Fossey, the answer was traveling to Africa to live with mountain gorillas. These awesome animals are endangered, but their numbers have increased recently.

Fossey was a zoologist, a scientist who studies animals. Her path to becoming a scientist is not what you'd expect. In her work and life choices, Fossey showed bravery and determination. In the end, Fossey died protecting the gorillas she loved.

Mountain gorillas
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Early Life

Fossey was born on January 16, 1932, in San Francisco, California. She thought about being a veterinarian, but became an occupational therapist. She worked at a children's hospital in Kentucky.

Dian wanted to travel around the world to see other animals. In 1963, she went on a trip to Africa that would change her life. She met a scientist named Louis Leakey there and got to see gorillas in the wild.

After the trip, Dr. Leakey happened to be coming to speak in Kentucky. Dian went to hear him, and Leakey encouraged her to come to Africa to work on a project studying mountain gorillas.

Dian Fossey's Work in Africa

In 1966, Dian left for Africa and started a camp in the Congo with a few men. The area was in the Virunga Mountains, on the border of Rwanda and Congo. She began getting closer to the gorillas. Dian lived in a small tent and ate mostly canned food and potatoes.

During this time, there was fighting in the area. Dian was taken by soldiers, but figured out a way to escape. Even though it was dangerous, she went back to the Virunga Mountains.

The red dot shows the Virunga Mountains.
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Karisoke Research Centre

On September 24, 1967, Dian set up the Karisoke Research Centre in Rwanda. She tried to make the gorillas comfortable by copying their behaviors and noises like walking on her knuckles or chewing celery. Soon, the gorillas got used to her. A story about her work was on the cover of National Geographic. It showed that mountain gorillas were gentle and a lot like people. Fossey's favorite gorilla was Digit, who was about five years old when they met in 1967. They became very close.

In 1970, Fossey went to England to get a doctorate degree in zoology. After finishing, she went back to Rwanda and worked to teach the world about poaching, when animals are killed by hunters illegally.

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