The Real Dian Fossey

The Real Dian Fossey

Dian Fossey first encountered gorillas aged thirty when she went on holiday to Africa. Hearing of gorillas in the mountains of Congo, she persuaded her guide to take her to meet Alan Root and his wife Joan, who were filming the gorillas. Initially reluctant, the Roots were persuaded by Fossey’s persistence to show her the gorillas and thereby changed the course of her life. After returning to Kentucky, Fossey was awarded funding by National Geographic for the next and final eighteen years of her life, for the preservation and research of mountain gorillas.

The political turmoil of the Congo forced her into the mountains of Rwanda. Here she met the human love of her life, Bob Campbell, who was sent by National Geographic to photograph Fossey’s work. It took a year before the relationship changed to intimacy whilst her research made a remarkable breakthrough. With Campbell’s help she got physically and emotionally closer to the mountain gorillas than anyone believed possible.

After the break-up of her affair with Bob Campbell Dian began to focus all her energy into organising patrols into the forest on a rotating basis to stop poaching. At times, her only real friends on the mountain were the gorillas. The brutal death of her favourite, Digit, at the hands of poachers had a profound affect on her. She wrote in her diary, “I have tried not to allow myself to think of Digit’s anguish, pain and the total comprehension he must have suffered in knowing what humans were doing to him. From that moment on, I came to live within an insulated part of myself.”

She returned to America, where she completed ‘Gorillas in the Mist’, the book that brought her worldwide fame.

Fossey returned to the mountains of Rwanda in 1983 and threw herself back into the gorilla conservation fray. Her ability to make enemies in her single-minded defence of gorillas meant that Dian Fossey was also now in danger. One morning a research assistant at her camp was raised from his sleep by one of the camp’s trackers and, hurrying to Fossey’s hut, found she had been hacked to death in a machete attack.

Despite Dian’s death in tragic and mysterious circumstances, her memory has left behind a perfect legacy. Dian’s work to protect the gorillas continues and the numbers of mountain gorillas, to which she dedicated her life, are on the increase. The programme features exclusive interviews with her ex-lover National Geographic photographer, Bob Campbell; former American Ambassador to Rwanda, Frank Crigler and his wife Betty; palaeontologist Richard Leakey, and Wayne McGuire, the research student, who having found Fossey’s body, was accused of murdering her by the Rwandan authorities and had to flee the country. A tracker previously accused of the murder had already died in custody.

Any quotes used from Dian Fossey’s book must have the following within the article copyright: Reprinted by the permission of Russell & Volkening as agents for the author. Copyright © 1983 by Dian Fossey.


“This pushes beyond movie images of Dian Fossey to explore the paradoxical gentleness and harshness of a woman who for eighteen years pursued her mission to protect gorillas from poachers.” The Guardian, Saturday’s TV Choices

“This profile probes further and deeper into the extraordinary absorption with her mountain gorillas in Rwanda”. Elizabeth Cowley, The Times, Pick of the Day

“Thank you for a fascinating film, a real insight into Dian Fossey.” Peter Grimsdale, Commissioning Editor History Religion and Features, Channel 4

“I thought the Dian Fossey film was great, a well balanced but fascinating view of her life.” Neil Nightingale, BBC Series Editor Natural World


The Chicago International Television Competition 1998 – Certificate of Merit, Best History/Biography Documentary.


The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International

  • Narrator:
    Stephen Rashbrook
  • Photography:
    Chris Openshaw
  • Music:
    Dimitri Tchamouroff
  • Editor:
    Carl Thomson and Pete Neil
  • Producer/Director:
    Jane-Marie Franklyn