Dian Fossey was an eminent primatologist and one of “Leakey’s Angels”, a group of three women sent out into the field to collect behavioural data of humanity’s closest living relatives: the apes. Dian traveled to the Virunga Mountains between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to study mountain gorillas in 1966, documenting their behaviour in their natural habitat. During her 18 years of research, Dian spoke out strongly against the illegal poaching of gorillas, and infuriated by the lack of enforcement, actively searched for and dismantled poachers’ traps. Her studies coincided with social and political unrest in the area, but through sheer determination Dian always managed to return to the field and to her gorillas. A yet unsolved mystery, Fossey was found murdered by machete on December 27, 1985.
She was a wonderful leader in the worlds of both conservation and primatology, and a personal hero to me.
These three women are Birutė Galdikas, Jane Goodall, and Dian Fossey, and together they are known as Leakey’s Angels. Louis Leakey was an archaeologist who was invaluable in his research of human evolution. He funded each of these women to study mans closest relatives, the Great Apes. In 1957, Goodall was the first Angel, and studied Chimpanzees in Gombe National Park in Tanzania. Fossey became the second Angel in 1967, beginning her extended study of Mountain Gorillas in the Virunga Volcanoes of Rwanda. She was mysteriously found murdered in her research territory in 1985. Galdikas was the last Angel, and in 1971 began extensive research on Orangutans in the jungles of Borneo; a species of ape that people knew next to nothing about at the time.
These women revolutionized the field of primatology, and created a doorway for women into the field of science. I think we should all take a moment to appreciate Leakey’s Angels.