Gorilla Warfare in Rwanda
My visit to the grave of Dian Fossey
Photo by Marcel Muller
By Claudia Flisi
Dian Fossey would probably have been turning over in her grave . . . if I hadn’t been standing on it. It is a narrow plot in a small cemetery and you have to get pretty close to read the inscription on the gravestone:
“No one loved gorillas more. Rest in peace, dear friend, eternally protected in this sacred ground, for you are home where you belong.”
How Fossey came to “belong here,” HERE in the high-altitude isolation of the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda, is explained – albeit superficially – in her book and the movie, Gorillas in the Mist. But why had another American woman (me) come here to follow in her footsteps? I had walked more than 2.7 miles, on a trail that serpentines up more than 9,000 feet to be here, and now felt awkward and embarrassed, as if I had defiled the memory of the woman who had made my trip possible.
I had come to Karisoke Research Center (more accurately, the ruins of Karisoke — the center was abandoned during the political troubles of Rwanda in the early 1990s) because it was one of the trekking options offered to visitors of Parc National des Volcans (PNV). I was a visitor to the PNV because this is one of the few places in the world where you can see habituated mountain gorillas. Mountain gorillas were first habituated by Dian Fossey . . . but NOT for people like me.
Quite the opposite: Fossey would have despised my presence. She fought bitterly against the exploitation of habituated gorillas for the amusement of tourists. She had habituated the primates to her presence and that of her researchers so she and they could study the endangered species before it disappeared. But she did her work too well, and publicity – those famous pictures in National Geographic back in 1970 – did the rest.