Timeline Description: Dian Fossey was an American zoologist who studied the mountain gorillas in the mountains of Rwanda, becoming the first human to have a peaceful physical contact with them. Her desire to preserve the lives and habitat of these amazing creatures ultimately led to her untimely death.
|1932||Dian is born.
Dian Fossey is born on January 16, 1932 in San Francisco, California during the time of the Great Depression. Her father becomes an alcoholic, contributing to her parents' divorce when she is 3. Her mother remarries in 1937.
|1945||A love for animals (Around 1945 - 1949).
Dian loves animals, but she is not allowed to have any pets. She is eventually allowed to have a goldfish. In high school she joins the riding club where she loves taking care of the horses.
|1949||College (1949 - 1952).
After high school Dian goes to junior college, studying business to please her parents. During the summer she works on a ranch in Montana. Being around animals leads her to want to become a veterinarian, but classes at the University of California, Davis are hard and she drops out.
|1952||A new career (1952 - 1963).
Dian enrolls at San Jose State and graduates in 1954 with a degree in occupational therapy. She gets a job in 1955 at a children's hospital in Louisville, Kentucky. She meets a woman who has traveled the world. When Dian is shown pictures of Africa, she knows she wants to go there some day.
The cost to go to Africa is almost as much as Dian makes in a year, yet she is determined to go. She takes out a large loan from the bank and leaves on September 26, 1963. While there she meets anthropologist Dr. Louis Leakey and shares her dream about working with gorillas.
|1963||An opportunity of a lifetime (1963 - 1966).
Dian returns to the United States where she works to pay off her loan. In 1966 Dr. Leakey comes to Louisville on a lecture tour. Dian goes to see him and he tells her he has a project for a person to research gorillas in Africa and he thinks she is perfect for the job. Dian eagerly accepts.
Dian goes to California to share the news with her parents. They aren't too happy. On December 15, Dian leaves the U.S., taking all that she will need to write the books and articles that her sponsors will require. She also takes lots of film for her camera.
|1966||Gorillas at last (1966 - 1967).
Dian goes to Tanzania to see how Jane Goodall has set up her research camp to observe chimpanzees. She then travels to the Congo and sets up camp in the mountain range where the gorillas live. She is joined by an animal tracker and soon they find gorillas to observe.
Over time Dian starts to identify different family groups and gives the gorillas names She even imitates some of their movements, and many are relaxed around her. However, rebel fighting makes it unsafe for her to stay and she is forced out of the area.
|1967||Karisoke Research Center.
Dian sets out to find another area to observe the mountain gorillas. She goes to Rwanda along the same mountain range. She sets up a new camp between Mt. Karisimbi and Mt. Visoke, calling it Karisoke. On her second trip out, Dian sees some of the gorilla groups she knows from the first camp.
|1968||Popularity and Peanuts (1968 - 1970).
A film crew comes out to document Dian's work. In 1970, she is featured in National Geographic magazine. Students now want to research with her. A photographer is with Dian when a gorilla named Peanuts reaches out and touches her fingers, the first time such human-gorilla contact has occurred.
|1971||Doctor Fossey (1971 - 1976).
Dr. Leakey encourages her to go to England to get her doctoral degree so sponsors will see she is a serious researcher. She spends the next few years between England and Africa. During this time Dr. Leakey dies. Dian graduates in 1976 with a zoology degree. She is now Dr. Dian Fossey.
|1972||Research (1972 - 1976).
By 1972 Dian has identified 100 gorillas in her research area. But poachers are a big problem. They come and set traps and kill the adults in order to take the babies. Dian makes friends with a gorilla named Digit who accepts her presence. He often sits near her and touches her hands and face.
|1977||Poacher problems (1977 - 1983).
Dian works so hard she gets sick in 1977. She goes back to the U.S. for treatment. When she returns she discovers poachers have killed Digit. She sets up a special fund to pay for people to patrol and protect the area. Her efforts anger many, and she goes back to the U.S. to teach awhile.
|1983||Book and death (1983 - 1985).
Dian publishes Gorillas in the Mist, which becomes very popular. She returns to Karisoke and tries to stop poachers and tourists whose interference is affecting the gorillas. On December 27, 1985 she is found murdered in her cabin. Her killer is never found. A movie based on her book is released in 1988. Dian will be remembered as a tireless researcher and a protector of the mountain gorillas for whom she died defending.