Dian, Jane, Birute,
“Anyone who tries to improve the lives of animals invariably comes in for criticism from those who believe such efforts are misplaced in a world of suffering humanity.” Jane Goodall knew this first hand, but went ahead anyway and made a difference in the lives of African Chimps, both in the wild and in the labs.
Humans rule the planet because of certain traits unique to us alone. And because animals and humans are vastly different, scientists believed it was okay to take land from animals, to use them for scientific studies, and to hunt them for food. Then Jane proved them all wrong when she discovered that chimpanzee’s used tools, have a language with more than twenty unique sounds and form deep bonds similar to human relationships. It became suddenly clear that the human and animal kingdoms are not so far apart. She’s still fighting for animal rights and environmental protections after 60 years.
Dian Fossey was an American primatologist and conservationist known for undertaking an extensive study of mountain gorilla groups from 1966 until her 1985 murder. She found her inspiration when visiting the African continent and meeting paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey and her husband, archaeologist Louis Leakey, one of the best-known husband-wife teams in the history of science.
Fossey then met Joan and Alan Root, native wildlife photographers who were working on a documentary of African gorillas at the time, and when the couple brought her along on one of their trips in search of the primates, Fossey was instantly enamored. She later explained her draw to gorillas in her 1983 autobiographical work, Gorillas in the Mist: “It was their individuality combined with the shyness of their behavior that remained the most captivating impression of this first encounter with the greatest of the great apes,” Fossey said. “I left Kabara with reluctance, but with never a doubt that I would, somehow, return to learn more about the gorillas of the misted mountains.”
Considered the world’s leading authority on the physiology and behavior of mountain gorillas, Dian Fossey fought hard to protect these “gentle giants” from environmental and human hazards. She saw these animals as dignified, highly social creatures with individual personalities and strong family relationships. Her active conservationist stand to save these animals from game wardens, zoo poachers, and government officials who wanted to convert gorilla habitats to farmland caused her to fight for the gorillas not only via the media, but also by destroying poachers’ dogs and traps. Her work also led to her death and her murder has never been solved, but her legacy has remained intact.
Because of civil wars in many regions, wildlife facilities were destroyed, but today because of her work and the continued support of her foundation, in Rwanda, both the lowland and mountain gorillas are now safe. Since Fossey’s death in 1985, the Fund’s activities have expanded to include the protection of Grauer’s (eastern lowland) gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as the mountain gorillas in that country’s Virunga National Park and other endangered species in the gorillas’ habitats.”
Fifty years after Dian began her work with the gorillas, The Ellen Fund was established and supports global conservation efforts for endangered species. Founded in 2018 by Portia de Rossi as a gift to her wife Ellen DeGeneres, the immediate focus is to secure a future for wild mountain gorillas by building The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund a permanent home. The new complex is a boon to the local economy research efforts.
Scientist, conservationist, educator, for over four decades, Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas has studied and worked closely with the orangutans of Indonesian Borneo in their natural habitat, and is today the world’s foremost authority on the orangutan. She too, had met Dr. Leakey who eventually helped fund her work with the orangutan, just as he had helped with Goodall and Fossey.
Today, the situation facing wild orangutans is far more complicated than when Dr. Galdikas first began her studies. As a result of poaching and habitat destruction (palm oil industry), viable orangutan populations are on the edge of extinction and could be gone within the next 20 years outside of national parks and reserves. Understanding is the first step to action. As President of OFI, Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas has studied orangutans longer than any other person in human history and has worked ceaselessly to save orangutans and forests, and to bring orangutans and their plight to the attention of the world.
Every single species on earth is facing extinction. Thanks to these brave women, some will have pockets of the earth to continue surviving. We are on a precipice in our history and we alone are the story tellers. These women are born of hope and I hope their stories inspire you.