Image: Associated PressDian Fossey was an American zoologist, primatologist and anthropologist, born Jan. 16, 1932, in San Francisco, who undertook an extensive study of gorilla groups over a period of 18 years.

Fossey’s love for animals began with her pet goldfish as a young girl. Her parents were divorced when she was six-years-old. Her mother discouraged her from having a relationship with her father. But her stepfather was a cold man who would not eat meals with Fossey. Spending time with animals was a release from her everyday life and she became an accomplished equestrian.

Though her stepfather wanted her to study business, she instead began taking veterinary courses at UC Davis. Angered, her parents cut her off financially and she worked her way through school: in a department store, a laboratory and as a machinist in a factory. She failed out of her program as she had difficulty with simple science and instead got a degree in occupational therapy. She worked with kids at the Kosair Crippled Children's Hospital. She moved into a friends farm where she worked with livestock.

In 1966, Louis Leakey promised she would receive funding for research with the Mountain Gorillas, so Fossey quit her job and went on to become one of the three most prominent researchers of primates — along with Jane Goodall, who studied chimps, and Birutė Galdikas, who studied orangutans.

Her work in conservation, her opposition to tourism and her preservation work made her enemies. She was vocal in her opposition to poaching — a crime mostly ignored by conservators who were bribed. In letters, she was that the Rwandan national park system, the World Wildlife Fund, African Wildlife Foundation, Fauna Preservation Society, the Mountain Gorilla Project and some of her former students were attempting to take Karisoke research center, which she founded, from her for the purpose of tourism.

On Dec. 27, 1985, she was murdered in her bedroom in Rwanda. She was killed in the night, the killer(s) did not rob her. The crime remains unsolved.

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