primatologist and leading authority on mountain gorillas
Birthplace: San Francisco, Calif.
Fossey took an early and avid interest in animals. She entered college as a preveterinary major, but switched majors to occupational therapy. After graduating from San Jose State College in 1954, she served as director of the occupational therapy department at the Kosair Crippled Children's Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky.
She fulfilled a lifelong dream to travel to Africa in 1963, where she met renown paleontologists Mary and Louis Leakey, who inspired her to study mountain gorillas. She returned to Louisville until 1966, when she returned to Africa, where she studied and lived with mountain gorillas in the Republic of Congo. She fled to Rwanda when civil war broke out in Congo in 1967. She established the Karisoke Research Foundation that year. She divided her time between conducting field work in Rwanda and earning a Ph.D. from Cambridge University (1976). Her best-selling memoir, Gorillas in the Mist, which chronicles her time spent living with the gorillas and battling poachers, was published in 1983, and made into a film starring Sigourney Weaver.
Fossey died in 1985. She was found murdered in a Rwandan camp. Her killers were never found, and many suspect that poachers, outraged by her campaign against them, were responsible.Died: Rwanda, 1985