On January 6, 1967, Dian Fossey and her friend Allan Root arrived at Kabara within the Parc des Virungas, home to the famous mountain gorillas in what was then known as the Congo. Fossey, who had visited the Congo earlier in 1963 to see these fascinating animals, would later spend 16 years studying and conserving mountain gorillas and their associated habitat. Thirteen of those years were spent at the Karisoke Research Centre she founded in the Parc des Volcans in Rwanda.
First published in Great Britain by Hodder and Stoughton Ltd in 1983, Gorillas in the Mist is Fossey’s account of her experiences. The paperback edition came out in 1985, published by Penguin books, and was reissued in 2000 by Mariner Books.
Fossey’s memoir documents her journey in first person, mixing self effacing anecdotes with a narrative filled with technical clarity, humor, fascinating insight, and a touching sympathy for wildlife. And while she does extensively cover the lives of several groups of gorillas, down to the minutest details, she also brings into focus the attitudes of the people that interact with these animals, and the effects of poaching in Africa’s early post colonial years.
The cord of wildlife conservation runs throughout the entire book. It binds the frustrations of conservators, the attitudes of the populace towards what is being conserved, and the commitments and purposes of those involved in the conservation effort.
Fossey realized that “to most of a local impoverished and inert populace, wildlife is considered an obstacle-tolerated only as long as it proves economically viable on a practical basis in the form of tusks, meat or skins.” For wildlife conservation efforts to succeed, she argued that “the importance of the eco-system to the livelihoods of the populace becomes a prime local priority”. This approach, she argued, would promote rather than “inhibit resourcefulness and self-motivation among those most directly connected with the future of their country’s wildlife.” Locally based bottom-up initiatives that accommodate the need for sustenance with the needs of the people were the win-win proposals that needed more promotion.
Although Fossey has been dead for over 25 years – she was killed in 1985, her ideas and contribution to conservation approaches still warrant recognition, if not application.