The rains in Rwanda had let up last December when Dian Fossey was murdered
in her cabin in the mountains, but by the time I arrived, a few months
later, they were coming down hard, twice a day. The airport at Kigali,
the capital, was socked in. Through the ciouds I caught glimpses of long
ridges and deep valleys terraced with rows of bananas, beans, sweet potato.
Rwanda is one of the smallest, poorest, and most densely populated countries
in Africa. There are 5.9 million Banyarwanda, as the people are called-more
than 500 per square mile. Almost every available patch of land is under
cultivation, and 23,000 new families need land each year. Women do most
of the farming-black Bahutu women in bold-patterned sarongs who look up
from black furrows of rich volcanic soil and give you thousand-dollar smiles.
Rwanda feeds itself, and though it is poor it is at peace, and because
it is at peace, and is in the Western camp and surrounded by large, uncoalesced
countries where anything could happen-Zaire, Uganda, Tanzania-it gets a
lot of aid. The Banyarwanda, whom Dian called' 'woggiepoos," are hardworking,
amiable, courteous, easygoing, and quite prudish. Their president, General-Major
Juvenal Habyarimana, who came to power in a coup thirteen years ago, is
a model of moderation. The main roads, recently paved by the Chinese, are
in great shape. Radio communications are excellent; if you want to get
hold of someone, you just send a message for him on the radio. The civil
servants are at their desks, and they are paid on time. If Africa is Oz,
an Africanist in New York told me, Rwanda is the Land of the Munchkins.
The center of excitement for expatriates in Kigali is the Hotel des Mille
Collines, with its pool and lavish buffet. This was where Dian stayed when
she came down from the mountain for a little Rand R, put on a smashing
dress she had bought on one of her shopping sprees in London, and went
partying with her embassy friends. Sooner or later every mzungu (the African
term for white person) in Rwanda you are looking for is bound to show up
at the Mille Collines.
Within hours of checking
in I ran into David Watts, who had just arrived to take over Dian's job
as director of the Karisoke Research Centre-the station for the study of
mountain gorillas that she had set up and continued to run for the better
part of two decades. David is thirty-five, single, with round wirerimmed
glasses and graying hair parted in the middle, a jacket and tie and backpack-a
refined, thoughtful individual who looks as though he might play the violin,
which he in fact does. He had spent a total of about two years during the
late seventies on the mountain with Dian. They had not parted friends.
In the last few days he had been making it clear to the Rwandan authorities
that he was eager to play ball with themsomething Dian had been singularly
uninterested in doing. The gorillas around Karisoke have become very important
to the Rwandan economy. They are the fourth most important source of foreign
exchange for the country; about six thousand tourists a year, at sixty
dollars a head, go up the mountain to see them. The tourists also stay
in hotels, rent cars, eat, and buy things.
A few days after meeting David at the Mille Collines, I went to visit the
gorillas with three other Americans. Our guide led us through fields planted
with a daisylike flower called pyrethrum, from which a biodegradable insecticide
is made. In 1969, about 40 percent of the forest in the Parc des Volcans,
where most of the gorillas live, was cleared and planted with pyrethrum
for export to the West, but even before the first crop was harvested, cheaper,
synthetic insecticides had been developed, and the bottom fell out of the
pyrethrum market. That the gorillas' habitat was decimated so that we Westerners,
while dumping our hazardous insecticides on the Third World, could have
a safe insecticide we didn't even want after all is typical of the ironies
of Third World conservation. Just as it is the West, so concerned with
saving the gorillas, that provided the outlets for gorilla poaching: until
four or five years ago, when public outcry pretty much put a stop to the
mountain-gorilla market, wildlife traffickers could get a couple of hundred
thousand dollars for one in good condition, physical-anthropology departments
at universities were eager to acquire their skeletons or skulls, and thoughtless
tourists brought back hands as mementos of their trip to Africa.
The gorillas we were looking for hang out in the bamboo forest and the
nettle meadows on the lower slopes of
Mount Visoke. We caught
up with them some twenty minutes from where they had been left the day
before. There were twelve of them-Ndume, the silverback, his three mates,
and eight young ones. They were making their way down a hillside, eating
stinging nettle and wild celery as they went. Ndume weighs about three
hundred pounds and eats about forty pounds of vegetation a day. He had
lost his right hand in a poacher's snare. We sat down fifteen feet from
him and waited to see what happened. Our guide had said to make no sudden
moves, and if charged to hit the dirt. Ndume knuckle-walked to within two
feet of me and sat down, facing the other way, completely ignoring us.
His head, with its massive brow ridge and powerful jaws, was huge. After
fifteen minutes he ambled over to a comfortable-looking spot and, snorting
contentedly, proceeded to sack out. There he remained, dead to the world,
limbs akimbo, until we left. The other gorillas circled around us curiously.
Safari walked out to the edge of a branch and jumped up and down on it.
The branch snapped and she came tumbling down into a thicket and dropped
from sight. Kosa, the subdominant male, reached up to a shrub and pulled
it toward his mouth, releasing hundreds of fluffy seeds into the air. An
unnamed young female walked toward us, briskly beating her chest for a
few seconds (it was more like fluttering than pounding, and seemed to be
meant more in friendship than intimidation), sat down beside me, put my
poncho in her mouth, bashed me on the knee a couple of times, and then
went over to her mother. I tried to catch a glint of recognition in the
gorillas' soft brown eyes, but they remained glossed over, wild. It was
clear, though, that they trusted us, maybe more than they should have.
Dian Fossey spent eighteen years on and off among the mountain gorillas
of Rwanda. She was to
them what Jane Goodall
is to the chimpanzees of Tanzania: she devoted her life to them and made
us aware of their existence. In 1967 she pitched camp at 10,000 feet in
the Virunga Mountains, a chain of mostly extinct volcanoes along the Zaire
and Uganda borders. The world's largest population of Gorilla gorilla beringei-around
240 individuals, in some twenty groups, each led by a dominant silverback
male-lives in the Virungas. It took several years before one of the groups
would allow her to sit with them while they chomped celery, groomed each
other, played, quarreled, and made love. Dian's habituation of the gorillas
was all the more remarkable because she did it without "provisioning";
Goodall had to bribe the chimps with bananas to get their cooperation.
After 11,000 hours in the field, Dian identified the individuals in four
groups from their characteristic noseprints and figured out their probable
genealogical relationships; she explored little-understood behavior like
infanticide and the migration of females among groups. Her scientific work
was, according to a colleague, "very factual and detailed. It had the ring
of authenticity. She left the theorizing to others." But it was her popular
work-a book, Gorillas in the Mist; three articles in National Geographic;
a documentary film about her; and her lectures-that had the greatest impact.
Dian became a feminist icon in America and England-the prototypical gutsy
lady doing her thing. In Rwanda she became a legend. The people called
her Nyiramacibili, the Woman Who Lives Alone in the Forest. Dian used her
prominence to dispel the myth that gorillas are vicious and dangerous-in
fact they are among the gentlest of primates-and to bring their plight
to the world's attention. During the late seventies an alarming number
of mountain gorillas were killed by poachers. One of the gorillas, whom
Dian had named Digit, she had a special rapport with; there was no one
Digit's age in his group to play with, so he gravitated to her. On December
31, 1977, Digit was found in the forest with his head and hands hacked
off. The grisly murder was announced by Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening
News, and there was a surge of interest in gorilla conservation.
After Digit's death, Dian's war with the poachers became personal. She
was increasingly abrasive and explosive, and alienated many people. Early
on the morning of last December 27, a few weeks before her fifty-fourth
birthday, somebody she had alienated badly, or perhaps a hired assailant,
broke into her cabin and killed her with a machete. There is no shortage
of theories about the brutal murder, but it has not been solved, and it
may never be. It may remain hidden in the bosom of Africa forever, along
with many other mysteries.
The modern Western reverence for wild animals, which gave rise to the wildlife-conservation
movement and impelled Dian to dedicate herself to the mountain gorillas,
dates from the late nineteenth century. In the beginning of the movement
it was still perfectly fine, while setting parks aside and founding flora-and-fauna-protection
societies, to bag a trophy or two. The pioneer conservationist Carl Akeley,
for instance, thought mountain gorillas were gentle and wonderful, but
had no qualms about shooting several for display in the Hall of African
Mammals at the American Museum of Natural History. It was Akeley who persuaded
King Albert of Belgium to include the Virungas in a national park. In 1926
Akeley returned there to do an in-depth field study of the gorillas, but
he died of malaria before he could begin, and was buried in the Kabara
meadow, about three hours' walk from where Dian would set up her research
It wasn't until the following decade that the first long-term observations
of mammals in the wild were made, by the primatologist C. R. Carpenter,
who studied howler monkeys on Barro Colorado Island, off Panama. After
that there was a lull in overseas fieldwork until the late fifties, when
the launching of Sputnik made money available in America for scientific
work of all kinds, and biologists such as Irven DeVore of Harvard and George
Schaller of the University of Wisconsin were able to go to Africa and study
baboons and mountain gorillas in their element. More than anyone it was
Schaller who, with subsequent studies of tigers, lions, wild sheep and
goats, and pandas, popularized the notion of going out and living with
the animal of your choice-field biology. His book on the ecology and behavior
of mountain gorillas, published in 1963, had a great effect on Dian, who
was then already a confirmed animal lover but was working as an occupational
therapist in Louisville, Kentucky, still groping her way to her real lifework.
Dian was an
only child. Her parents divorced when she was little, and when she was
six her mother, Hazel, married a builder named Richard Price. There doesn't
seem to have been much love between Dian and her stepfather. Until she
was ten, she dined in the kitchen with the housekeeper (the Prices lived
in San Francisco and were pretty well-off), while her parents ate together
in the dining room. As an adult, Dian was estranged from the Prices.
In general, people who are drawn to nature and become animal lovers fall
into two groups, which might be de
scribed as the Shakespeareans
and the Thoreauvians. The Shakespeareans consider man and his works to
be part of nature; while loving animals, they have warm, positive feelings
toward people too. The animal love of the Thoreauvians, however, is inversely
proportionate to their compassion for their own kind. Often their problems
with people, and their sometimes extraordinary empathy with animals, can
be traced to a lonely childhood. Most fanatical animal lovers, such as
the militant British animal-rights activists who sneak up on fishermen
and push them into the river, are Thoreauvians. An other example is Joy
Adamson, who did a great deal for lions but was killed by one of her African
workers, whom she had abused terribly, in a crime that may closely resemble
Dian' s murder.
When Dian was six she started to take lessons at the St. Francis Riding
Academy, and she remained horse-crazy through adolescence. She won a letter
on the riding team at Lowell High School, where she excelled academically
and shunned the cliques that were so important to the other girls. From
Lowell she went to the University of California at Davis to study animal
husbandry, but after two years there she switched her major to occupational
therapy and transferred to San Jose State. In 1955she was now twenty-three
years old and looking for a job-she saw an ad for an occupational therapist
at a crippled children's hospital in Louisville and applied, because Kentucky
was horse country, she would later say. There she worked with children
suffering from polio (this was just before the Salk vaccine) and with inbred
mountain children suffering from birth defects; she had a succession of
dogs and was "a neat person to be with-generous to a fault, extraordinarily
disciplined, with a delightful, self-deprecating sense of humor, tall,
slim, perfectly gorgeous," a woman friend recalls.
In 1963, Dian took out a three-year bank loan and went to Africa to see
the animals. At Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania she looked up Louis Leakey, the
eminent anthropologist who had revolutionized the study of human origins.
From Tanzania she went to the Kabara meadow in the Congo, where Schaller
had done his research and Akeley was buried. There she met a couple from
Kenya, Joan and Alan Root, who were doing a photographic documentary on
mountain gorillas. They took her out to see some. "Peeking through the
vegetation, we could distinguish an equally curious phalanx of black, leather-countenanced,
furry-headed primates peering back at us," she later wrote. She felt a
rush of awe, an immediate connection with the huge, magnificent creatures.
After seven weeks in Africa, Dian returned to Louisville and her job. She
published articles with her photographs of gorillas and got engaged to
a wealthy Southern Rhodesian who was studying at Notre Dame. Three years
later Louis Leakey came to town on a lecture tour. One of Leakey's pet
projects, after his own work with fossils, was to encourage research on
man's closest relatives, the great apes-chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas.
Leakey had a theory that the best person to go out and study apes was a
single woman with no scientific training. Such a person would be unbiased
about the behavior she witnessed; unattached, with no responsibilities,
she would be willing to work for nothing. A woman would pose less of a
threat to the local people (hardly the case with Dian, as it turned out).
Women were tougher and more tenacious than men, Leakey believed, and more
observant. The truth was, also, that Leakey liked to have women around.
He would put them up in a dormitory in the Tigoni Centre for Prehistory
and Paleontology in Kenya. There are nearly a hundred Leakey women nobody
has ever heard about, who didn't quite make the grade.
The shrewdness of Leakey's theory had been borne out by Jane Goodall's
resounding success with chimps, and later Birute Galdikas would pull through
for him with her work on the orangutans of Borneo. But in 1966 he was looking
for a "gorilla girl," and after a brief interview with Dian he saw that
she had the requisite gumption and offered her the job. Leakey warned her
that she would have to have a pre-emptive appendectomy. She swallowed and
said no problem. Six weeks later he wrote to say that actually there was
no real need for her to have her appendix removed; he had just been testing
her determination. But by then it was already out.
Dian's truly admirable efforts on behalf of the gorillas began with her
return to Africa at the end of 1966. She visited Jane Goodall for a few
days to see how she had set up her camp, then proceeded to the Kabara meadow,
where she hoped to base her study. But the situation in the Congo was precarious.
After six months civil war broke out. Dian was taken off the mountain by
rebel Congolese soldiers and held in a place called Rumangabo. She persuaded
the soldiers to drive with her into Uganda, leading them to believe that
they would be getting her Land-Rover and some money she had there. When
they reached Uganda she managed to have the soldiers arrested. There is
a theory that these same soldiers, whom she made such fools of, were her
murderers. The merits of this theory are that Zaire, as the Congo is now
called, is only a ten-minute walk from her cabin and the frontier is open,
and that the way she was killed is more Zalrois than Rwandan: the Rwandans
are a peaceful people who abhor violence. If a Rwandan wanted to kill someone
he would use poison. The problem with the the ory-a big one-is why would
the soldiers have waited eighteen years?
In the fall
of 1967, Dian set up a new study site on the Rwanda side of the Virungas.
For the first few years she had the help of a Belgian woman who lived there,
Alyette DeMunck. Alyette had just lost her son and nephew, to whom she
had given a trip to Africa as a graduation present from their university
in Belgium. The two young men had driven down from Kampala to see her and
had taken a wrong turn into the Congo, where they were arrested and killed
by soldiers who thought they were mercenaries. Alyette helped Dian choose
the saddle between Mounts Karisimbi and Visoke as her new base, which Dian,
combining the two names, called Karisoke, and she negotiated with the local
people who built the cabins. Dian was hopeless at languages.
In 1968 the National Geographic Society, which was sponsoring Dian, sent
a photographer named Bob Campbell to film her at work. Bob was from Kenya-tall,
quiet, kind, a devoted conservationist and a fine photographer who has
accompanied the Duke of Edinburgh on safari. A "tenderness" developed between
them, as one of Dian's friends delicately phrased it, since Bob was married.
He spent several months at a time on the mountain with her until 1972.
"Bob was perfect for her-a calming influence," the friend recalled. His
movie is a poignant record of her early years at Karisoke. The footage
is not exactly cinema verite; there is a slight flush of self-consciousness
on Dian's face as she pretends to be absorbed in note-taking or walks before
a breathtaking bit of scenery. She was always a little self-conscious about
her six-foot height, and complained to friends that she wished she were
more! "stacked," but she is definitely a good-! looking woman, willowy,
with an Irish twinkle, and she looks very happy. Her voice is worldly,
self-possessed, laid-back California. It has none of the innocence of some
naturalists'. In one sequence Dian is sitting with a gorilla. The gorilla
takes Dian's notebook, looks at it carefully, and politely passes it back,
then does the same with her pencil-such a familiar, friendly interaction
that you almost forget the gorilla isn't human. A few minutes later Dian
and her student, Kelly Stewart, are watching gorillas together. Kelly looks
just like her dad, the actor Jimmy Stewart. What an idyllic life, one thinks
as Dian romps in her high rubber boots among Hagenia trees dripping with
strands of lichen, looking here and there for gorillas. Everything at Karisoke-the
cluster of tin-sided shacks high in the montane forest, Dian's home, which
she created from nothingseems harmonious.
In fact, Dian "was under enormous pressures that few people knew about,"
according to Bob Campbell, whom I reached by telephone. He now lives outside
Nairobi, not far from where Karen Blixen had her coffee plantation. "She
had to construct the camp and keep it going. It was very hard to get supplies,
and her funds were meager. There were a couple of students who didn't work
out-who came looking for a fabulous life in the bush and couldn't take
the harsh conditions. Nothing is easy up there. She had to help Alyette
through her tragedy, and she herself had suffered severely during the Congo
rebellion, when she was held by the soldiers at Rumangabo." How? I asked.
"She was always reluctant to describe it," Bob said. Was she tortured?
I asked. "No," Bob said. "She was not harmed physically." Was she sexually
molested? "Yes," he said, "and this experience set her attitudes toward
the local people."
The main external problem for both Dian and Bob at that time was that the
gorillas were wild and unapproachable
and afraid of humans.
The only people they had had contact with were the Batutsi cattle herders
and the "poachers." The Batutsi are the famous Watusi-tall, lanky Hamitic
warriorpastoralists who came down from the north some four hundred years
ago and subjugated the Bahutu-short, stocky Bantu agriculturists who had
come from the south even earlier. When Rwanda won independence from Belgium
in 1962, the Bahutu rose up and slaughtered their former masters. Thousands
of Batutsi fled into the forests of the Parc des Volcans, driving with
them tens of thousands of head of lyrehomed Ankole cattle. No one minded
that these people and their stock were in the park, disturbing the gorillas,
until Dian came along.
Most of the poachers in the forest are Batwa pygmiesRwanda's third, and
original, ethnic group. The Batwa have been hunter-gatherers since time
immemorial. They are poachers only by recent legislative fiat. Like their
cousins, the Bambuti and the Efe pygmies in the Ituri Forest of Zaire,
they are a fun-loving people, mischievous, ready to dance at the drop of
a hat. Incredibly alert in the forest, they have as little as possible
to do with farming, which they consider dull, hot, demeaning work. The
main quarry of the Batwa are forest antelope-bushbucks and black-fronted
duikersfor which they lay snares. An antelope steps into one and, whoosh,
he is hoisted into the air.
Occasionally one of Dian's gorillas would get a hand or a foot caught in
a Batwa snare. It would usually struggle free, but its wrist or ankle would
be a bloody mess, gangrene would set in, and often it would end up dying
a month or two later. Understandably, when this happened Dian would be
very upset. She considered the Batwa and the handful of Bahutu who live
among them and organize them and make use of their superior hunting abilities
the main threat to the gorillas, and as time went on she devoted increasing
energy to cutting their snares, destroying their traps, raiding their villages,
terrorizing and punishing them.
How much Dian's war on the local cattle herders and hunters was motivated
by concern for the gorillas, and how much it served as an outlet for her
Thoreauvian antipathy to people, especially to Africans, after what had
happened at Rumangabo, is hard to say. There are many different views of
Dian. People either loved her or loathed her. In general, the Dian lovers
are women who knew her in the States, socially, or through her warm, funny,
generous-spirited letters, while the Dian haters are fellow scientists
who were up on the mountain with her. The lovers describe the haters as
"aggressive Young Turks who were in competition with her," while the haters
describe the lovers' perception of her as "rose-tinted." Very few people
are aware of what happened at Rumangabo. The experience must have burned
into her being, as the torture and sodomy T. E. Lawrence suffered from
Turks did into his.
Bob Campbell remains
one of her staunch defenders. "She was caught up in circumstances beyond
her control, disasters that upset her mind in the early stages and soured
her later years. Others would have quit. She was never physically strong,
but she had guts and willpower and an urgent desire to study the gorillas,
and that was what kept her up there." I asked him how close their relationship
had been. "Close enough that she didn't want me to leave," he said. "She
came to rely on me for many things that weren't part of my assignmentrunning
the staff, dealing with the students. After six months we reached an agreement
that we were both up there to work for the gorillas, but even so, I left
before my assignment was completed." Friends remember that Dian was devastated
by Bob's departure. The part of her that yearned for a mate and children
The primatological community, which had mixed feelings about Dian, is a
small, intense one. It isn't easy for primatologists to get funded, and
university positions and opportunities to work in the field are limited.
This forces them into competition with one another. In order to get his
Ph. D. the primatologist must go out into the field for a year or two,
alone or with several colleagues, and collect data. This is the critical
phase of his or her career, because a scientist who doesn't have data doesn't
have anything. It is also the most stressful phase. You have to adapt to
primitive living conditions, an alien environment and culture, and isolation.
The fieldwork itself is a constant worry. Maybe your line of reasoning
will turn out to be all wrong and you'll have to come up with a new hypothesis
and collect entirely different data. Maybe somebody will come up with a
better approach to your problem and solve it before you do. Maybe-this
is a huge worrysomebody will rip off your data. Or maybe your data will
be lost or destroyed. (This happened to Kelly Stewart, who was collecting
data at Karisoke for a Ph.D. from Cambridge. One night she hung her wet
clothes too close to the wood stove in her cabin, and while she was having
dinner at Dian's cabin, eighteen months' worth of field notes went up in
smoke.) And during all this time you get little or no feedback. The animals
certainly aren't going to tell you if you're on the right track.
Dian was not academically qualified to study gorillas, and that always
bothered her. She felt in the shadow of Schaller, who in eighteen months
had picked up probably 80 to 90 percent of what there is to learn about
mountain gorillas, at least at our present level of understanding. So in
1973 she went back to college. If she was going to get continued support,
she was going to have to get a degree. She enrolled in the Sub-Department
of Animal Behaviour at Darwin College, Cambridge, under Robert Hinde, Jane
Goodall's supervisor, and fell in with some brilliant young primatologists.
For the next few years she went back and forth between Cambridge and Africa.
There had been a tremendous surge of environmental awareness in the West
while Dian was on the mountain. Ecology, an abstruse scientific term, had
become a household word. The baby-boomers were getting Ph.D.s in record
numbers from newly created or expanded natural-science departments. A new
breed of biologist was arriving to do fieldwork in the African bush. He
brought with him new political attitudes, an openness to the local people,
a willingness to learn their language, to include their needs and point
of view in his conservation strategies. The only way you can save animals
in the Third World, these newwave biologists realized, is to make the animals
worth more to the local people alive than dead, to give them a stake in
Dian was intimidated by the young scientists who came to Karisoke to study
with her. She felt that they were more interested in their graphs of gorilla
reproductive success than in the gorillas themselves. They weren't willing
to interrupt ,their observation schedules to go and cut snares. She believed
that the local people were lazy, corrupt, and incompetent, and that there
was no point in trying to work with them. Her first priority was to stop
The young scientists
felt her war with the poachers was nasty and inappropriate, and they didn't
want to be associated with it.
In 1977 Digit was murdered and mutilated, and Dian "came to live with in
an insulated part of myself," as she wrote in her book. She was increasingly
reclusive and morose and peculiar, retreating even from the gorillas. During
one eighteen-month period in the late seventies she went out to the gorillas
only six times, when important visitors-a film crew, the American ambassador
and his wife, big contributors to gorilla conservation-came up. On these
occasions she pulled herself together and was charming, but by this time
she was a sick and increasingly bitter woman. She had emphysema, for which
two packs a day of Impala iiltree, the strong local cigarettes, were doing
no good. She began to drink. Communications with other researchers in the
camp took place mainly through notes.
Dian's consuming interest was in punishing the poachers. Once she put a
noose around a captured pygmy, threw the rope over a rafter, and threatened
to hoist him if he didn't start talking. Horrible rumors began circulating
among the Belgian doctors in Kigali: that she had injected one poacher
with gorilla dung to give him septicemia; that she had hired a sorcerer
to poison another particularly incorrigible one.
Dian's treatment of the poachers didn't really bother the Rwandan authorities,
since the park guards were just as brutal once she turned the poachers
over to them. What the Rwandans resented was her open contempt for them.
Dian was convinced that they were all corrupt. She publicly accused the
conservateur of the park of being behind the attempted abduction of one
young gorilla, at a time when the park officials were finally beginning
to take their job seriously. There was a big row between Dian and O.R.
T.P.N., the Rwandan agency that controls foreign visitors to the country's
national parks, over David Attenborough, who had asked Dian if he could
shoot a gorilla sequence for his
"Life on Earth" series.
Dian said fine. Until then she had been allowed to invite up anybody she
wanted to. Attenborough went up with a crew, but when he came down he was
harassed for not having a permit from O.R.T.P.N., which wanted to assert
its control over park visitors. Dian was furious. So bad w~re the relations
between her and the director of tourism, Laurent Habiyaremye, that some
Rwandans and European expatriates believe it was he who had her killed.
According to this theory, Habiyaremye wanted to get rid of Dian so O.R.
T.P.N. could take over Karisoke and turn it into a tourist facility, convert
the groups of gorillas used for research into tourist groups, and make
that much more money. A spokesman for O.R. T.P.N. told me that if they
had wanted to take over Karisoke they wouldn't have had to kill her; they
could have just ordered her to leave. He said they wanted Karisoke to remain
a research center that would one day be run by Rwandans.
The mountain gorilla proved to be as good a fund-raising animal as the
panda or the whale. As money began to pour in, Dian agreed for it to be
channeled through the African Wildlife Foundation, which was already set
up to process donations. But there was a big blowup over how the money
should be used. Dian wanted it with no strings attached, to beef up her
antipoaching patrols, to implement what she called "active convervation."
Her refusal to cooperate with the Rwandans and the things she was doing
to the poachers were unacceptable to the A. W .F., so Dian ended up pulling
out with her Digit Fund, and accusing the A.W.F. of stealing her money.
The A.W.F. joined with other conservation groups to fund the Mountain Gorilla
Project, which takes a three-pronged approach to saving the gorillas: set
up tourism as a way of providing Rwanda with income from the animals and
a reason for keeping them alive; train and increase the number of park
guards; and educate the local people about the value of the gorillas and
their habitat. In 1978 two young Americans, Bill Weber and Amy Vedder,
came out to help set up the project while working on respective Ph.D.s
on the socioeconomic aspects of conservation and on the feeding ecology
of the mountain gorilla. Bill and Amy were a couple (Dian had particular
trouble dealing with couples), and an extremely dynamic one. Amy was everything
Dian was not: a highly trained zoologist who spoke French and got on well
with Africans, a wife and mother to boot. So jealousy was probably a factor
in the bad blood that developed between them. But it was also that Dian
couldn't stomach the idea of tourists, whom she called' 'idle rubberneckers,
" being marched up to see the gorillas. She thought the tourism was going
to be handled the way it is in Zaire, where twenty or thirty tourists at
a shot are taken up by a dozen pygmies who cut a wide swath in the vegetation
right up to the gorillas and taunt them into beating their chests and screaming
and charging. In 1980 she fired several shots over the heads of a party
of Dutch tourists who had hiked up to Karisoke uninvited.
It became increasingly clear to friends and foes alike that Dian's presence
at Karisoke had become counterproductive and possibly even dangerous to
herself. Bill Weber drafted a letter to the National Geographic Society,
Dian's main backer, describing how badly run Karisoke was and speculating
on a link between her persecution of the poachers and the fact that the
only gorillas who were being killed were the ones in her study groups.
This letter found its way into the hands of a friend of Dian' s at the
American Embassy, who showed it to Dian. She was already convinced that
there was a conspiracy to get rid of her. Now she had evidence. She took
to sneaking up on the researchers' cabins at night and listening to their
conversations, to opening and reading their mail.
to send his critical letter if the American ambassador, Frank Crigler,
didn't get her out of the country, and Crigler spent" an enormous amount
of government time," as he told me, on what was a private-sector problem-trying
to find an academic institution where she could go and write her book,
which she was under increasing pressure to produce. Harvard and other institutions
were approached, but none was interested. Finally Cornell offered her a
visiting associate professorship, and in 1980 she left for Ithaca, where
she stayed three years before returning to Karisoke.
While Dian was in Ithaca, Sandy Harcourt, one of the new-wave zoologists,
a bright, handsome, reserved, ambitious young Englishman, took over as
director of Karisoke. He is one of the leading experts on Gorilla gorilla
beringei. Sandy had spent several years on the mountain with Dian in the
mid-seventies. They started out friends, but then Kelly Stewart, of whom
Dian was very fond, began living with Sandy. Dian' s antipathy toward couples
surfaced, and she turned on them.
The Harcourts (Sandy and Kelly got married in 1977) live outside Cambridge,
but I reached them in Beverly Hills, where they were visiting Kelly's parents
for a few days, on their way to a primate center in Japan. Sandy didn't
want to talk about Dian. A number of primatologists didn't want to talk
about Dian, because they felt that the negative things they would have
to say would do nobody any good, especially the gorillas, with whom she
is identified. But Kelly wanted to talk.
The fIrst time I saw gorillas was in the summer of 1972, in Zaire," she
began. "I had graduated from Stanford with a degree in anthropology and
I was on a tourist trip and I went up to see the eastern-lowland gorillas
near Bukavu. I was so amazed, I knew I wanted to work with them. So I wrote
Dian-I'd read her National Geographic articleand asked if she needed anybody,
a gofer, a research assistant, anything. After she got the letter, she
met me at Stanford to check me out. At the first meeting and for a long
time afterward I idolized her. That's how a lot of the students thought
of her, until they got to Karisoke.
"When I got there in 1974 she was engaged to a French doctor in Ruhengeri
[a good-size town below the mountain], but that didn't work out. She broke
up with him near the end of 1975. The problem was that she wasn't willing
to leave Karisoke, and he didn't want to live up there. Her trouble with
relationships was that she wanted them and she didn't. Birute Galdikas
[the third "Leakey lady"] married a Dayak with bones through his nose,
but Dian did not consider that strategy.
She had a perfectly colonial attitude toward the Africans. On Christmas
she'd give the most extravagant presents to them; other times she'd humiliate
them, spit on the ground in front of them-once I even saw her spit on one
of the workers-break into their cabin and accuse them of stealing and dock
their pay. Two researchers left Karisoke because of the way she treated
the Africans. 'My people,' she called them, like Blixen. They were loyal
to her, but they had to stay because there are few paid jobs in the area
and there is a certain cachet to being a tracker. The men never knew when
she was going to start yelling at them. When she left camp it was like
a cloud had risen, and it got worse over the years."
Soon after her funeral, five of Dian's trackers-Bahutu she had hired from
the villages below-were arrested and placed in the Ruhengeri prison, where
they were held for months without charges. The panga, the heavy-bladed
local machete that was used to kill her and was found under her bed, was
from the camp. Prints were unobtainable because it had been passed from
hand to hand at the scene of the crime.
According to one theory, the trackers were taken in because of a cultural
misunderstanding. At Dian's funeral, Amy Vedder went up to Nemeye, one
of the trackers, and hugged him. This was a very American thing to do at
a funeral, but not a Rwandan one at all. Rwandans shake hands vigorously
upon meeting, they don't hug. The police, who were at the funeral looking
for anything out of the ordinary and knew that there was bad blood between
Dian and Amy, saw her hug Nemeye and assumed the two of them were in cahoots,
so Nemeye and the four others were taken in. Kelly Stewart said, "The guys
in jail are really good guys. It's not possible any of them could have
Many other Karisoke
veterans agree with her. Subscribers to the tracker theory offer two motives:
money and revenge for humiliation. African men find it very hard to be
dressed down by a woman.
Other theories focus on the Bahutu poachers who live with the Batwa. They
certainly had reason to want her out of the picture. Dian had at least
one mortal enemy, the poacher Munyarukiko. Munyarukiko was a real killer,
and he hated Dian. She had broken intQ his house and destroyed his possessions
and kidnapped his boy (who was well treated, and told Dian a lot about
the poaching). He had been involved in the death of Digit and may have
been the one who shot Uncle Bert, the dominant silverback male in Digit's
group, in an act many believe was a vendetta against Dian. Munyarukiko
could have reasoned that the sweetest revenge he could inflict on her was
to kill her gorillas one by one, before he got her. But Munyarukiko died
in 1978, or so Dian heard from local informants. According to one story,
he ran away with a woman to Uganda and the woman's people tracked them
there and killed him. But is Munyarukiko really dead?
In May of last year another notorious poacher, Sebahutu, was caught, but
he was in jail in December, so that rules him out, at least as the actual
murderer. Then, on November 14, Hatageka, whom Dian described as "one of
the last of the old-timers," was caught skinning a bushbuck fifty yards
from the park boundary. Hatageka was brought to Dian. In a letter to Ian
Redmond, who went to Karisoke in 1976 to study the parasites in the gorillas'
dung and in his two years there became increasingly involved in antipoaching
work, she wrote, "I gently examined his clothing and sewn in his sleeve
was a small pouch of sumu [poison in Swahili], containing bits of vegetation
and skin, all looking like vacuum cleaner debris." Dian took the bits and
put them on her mantelpiece. While she was in her bedroom getting a reward
for the guards for bringing Hatageka in, he lunged for the pieces. The
guards subdued him and Dian took them back. Then Hatageka was led away.
"I still have them," Dian wrote. "Nasty lady. It was like taking a nipple
from a baby. He just deflated after I took them."
Redmond's theory, which has received a lot of attention in the American
press, is that Hatageka sent someone to break into the cabin and get back
his sumu. (Incarceration in Africa is a lot more relaxed than it is in
the West. Food, women, dope, a trip to the market are only a question of
money. There is ample opportunity to plot revenge with your brothers, to
arrange with someone on the outside to get the person who put you there.)
Dian awakened. The burglar panicked, grabbed a handy machete, and killed
her. When Ian was collecting her personal effects to send to her parents
several weeks after the murder, he found in a drawer a Ziploc bag containing
what looked like the sumu. He also found the letter to him, dated November
24 but never sent, describing the capture of Hatageka.
It is perfectly possible that a Bahufu, particularly one in as dangerous
a profession as poaching, might carry a protective talisman, although a
more correct word for it would be impigi, not sumu. "The talisman could
be a little packet of herbs, the tooth of an animal, a piece of antelope
horn-no telling what," the anthropologist Chris Taylor, who studies traditional
Bahutu medicine, told me. "Children are thought to be particularly vulnerable
to witchcraft, and are often given a leather thong to wear around the waist
to ward it off."
Ian Redmond, whom I reached at his home in Bristol, England, said that
he never saw a talisman on any of the doz. en poachers he had direct contact
with. "But this isn't something they're going to show you," he added. "Only
after my return to England did Dian become aware that if you got the poacher's
talisman that really weakens him and gives you a psychological advantage."
It is also possible that a Bahutu might kill to get his talisman back.
He would be afraid that whoever had it could use it to work a spell against
him and do him great harm. The belief that illness is caused by the magic
of an enemy, or by actual poison, is widespread in black Africa. The cure
is to hire a healer to identify the enemy and to work a counterspell. Moreover,
if someone had suffered a dreadful family misfortune and had attributed
it to Dian (who to scare the poachers cultivated ~he image of a witch),
that could have been the end of her. But would avengers have come unarmed?
That's a problem with this theory.
Dian 's treatment of the poachers, as Kelly described it, was merciless.
"She would torture them. She would whip their balls with stinging nettles,
spit on them, kick them, put on masks and curse them, stuff sleeping pills
down their throats. She said she hated doing it, and respected the poachers
for being able to live in the forest, but she got into it and liked to
do it and felt guilty that she did. She hated them so much. She reduced
them to quivering, quaking packages of fear, little guys in rags rolling
on the ground and foaming at the mouth."
Some of Dian's friends condone her methods with the poachers. Ian said
he never actually saw Dian lay a hand on anyone. "A lot of her alleged
mistreatment was not stopping the guards." He had heard stories about Dian
whipping the pygmies' balls with stinging nettles, "and I know how that
is going to sound to the tender-skinned European reader sitting in his
armchair, but don't forget that the pygmies run through stinging nettles
every week," he argued. Ian himself recently advocated equipping the antipoaching
patrols with submachine guns. He also defended Dian's treatment of the
camp staff. "If you're working with Africans and want them to perform up
to European standards, you have to blow up at them, because they try to
get away with doing as little as possible." He is the only person besides
Bob Campbell and Alyette DeMunck who was with Dian on the mountain for
any length of time and remained her friend. "Dian as an individual was
in many ways like the gorillas," he told another journalist, "in that if
you are easily put off by bluff charges, screaming and shouting, then you
probably think that the gorillas are monsters. But if you are prepared
to sidestep the bluff charges and temper and sh')uting and get to know
the person within. ..then you'll find that Dian, like the gorilla, was
a gentle, loving person."
Kelly Stewart wasn't so magnanimous. "I think by the end she was doing
more harm thaI. good," she told me. "Dian went out to the gorillas because
she loved them and she loved the bush and being on her own, but she ended
up with more than she bargained for. She wasn't planning on having to organize
and work with and fight with people. She was no good as a scientific mentor,
but she couldn't hand over control. She couldn't take the backseat. Her
alternative-to leave and die somewhere an invalid-was never something she
would have considered. She always fantasized about a final confrontation.
She viewed herself as a warrior fighting this enemy who was out to get
her. It was a perfect ending. She got what she wanted. It was exactly how
she would have ended the script. It must have been painful, but it didn't
last long. The first whack killed her. It was such a clean whack I understand
there was hardly any blood."
The Banyarwanda in Kigali are unaware of what Nyiramacibili was like on
the mountain or that she called them "woggiepoos." To them she is a national
hero. "She was a good woman," a man standing in the moonlight in front
of the Mille Collines tells me. "Did you know her?" I ask. "Several times.
It was she who showed us the gorillas." And the Batutsi woman who rents
me a jeep: "She was tres courageuse. A courageous woman like that they
should have left alone. They should have put up a statue to her. She lived
alone and consecrated her life to the gorillas. That is very rare."
I hired a driver, a young man named Abdallah Issa, who had been Dian's
taximan whenever she was in Kigali. "She was tres, tres gentille, monsieur,"
he told us. "Je regrette encore. She gave me this cowboy [the jeans he
was wearing] from America. For this I am against the people who killed
It is a two-hour drive to Ruhengeri, where the police station is. Weaving
through "the land of a thousand hills," the road is a busy river, flowing
with blue-uniformed schoolgirls, women balancing crocks of banana beer
on their heads, firewood, bundles of wash. Out in the countryside, not
a tree is left of the original forest. Abdallah drives slowly through a
crowd gathered around a man on a bicycle who has just been struck dead
by a minibus. The public transport stops for no one. I flick a cigarette
to the side of the road. A boy picks it up and runs along with us, smoking
it with the hot tip in his mouth. Another boy calls shamelessly, "Give
me money. I have nothing to eat." Ruhengeri is a beautiful town. The air
is thin and spiced and full of birds.
I get nowhere with Mathias Bushishi, the public prosecutor in charge of
the investigation, who says, "As soon as the investigations are concluded,
we will certainly publish the denouement. As you say, Nyiramacibili is
very important to us and to America, and we can hardly overlook the matter
or keep it secret, but"-he gives an apologetic
are tied." What happens in general when someone is murdered? I ask~
How do you find out who did it? "In general," Bushishi explains, "when
a murder is unsolved, one continues to search, over a period known as La
prescription de l'infraction [which is like our statute of limitations].
We try to break the conspiracy of silence. We listen to people in bars,
talking in the market, at private reunions. We bring people in for questioning.
Many people may know, but they aren't talking. But time is on our side.
Sooner or later somebody will say something he will regret. La prescription
de l'infraction lasts ten years. But in this case we are in a hurry."
The Rwandan theory, which I heard from a man who said he had it from "someone
close to the investigation," is this: Dian was happy with everybody except
the Americans wno worked with her. She made more money than they did. One
day two Zalrois were hired by two American ex-students to get rid of her.
The Zalrois hired the men who worked in the camp to go through her window
late one night and kill her. According to my source, two of the workers
were taken in for questioning, and after many beatings they said there
were three others. The Zalrois and the Americans have not yet been found.
The "evidence" for this theory is: "American" hair was found near the body.
A thousand dollars in cash was left in the cabin. No Rwandan would have
passed it up. Finally, Rwandans simply don't kill mzungus. The last time
was something like thirty years ago, when a European woman was murdered
by a Rwandan she had sacked for stealing. No, this had to be the work of
foreigners. There seemed to be a political dimension to this theory as
well, just as the Rwandan stance on AIDS is that the mzungus brought it
into the country. (In fact the virus is thought to be endemic to Rwanda,
but most Rwandans who carry it are resistant to it and don't get AIDS;
it is unresistant mzungu sex partners who develop the disease.)
But why would Dian's students have wanted to kill her? I asked my source.
To get her documents, he explained. What "documents"? Her notes. But of
what value are they to anybody? She wrote a book and made a lot of money,
and was spending most of her time in the cabin writing another book. Whoever
got his hands on the notes could make a lot of money himself. A few days
later I heard from an expatriate American another explanation of why Rwandans
think Dian's notes are worth a lot of money: the Rwandans watch all these
Americans going into the forest, which is crazy in the first place, and
figure there must be a gold mine up there. They see the Americans taking
notes all the time, so obviously the gold mine must be in the notes.
Dian's oldest and dearest friend in Rwanda, Rosamond Carr, has a flower
farm in the hills above Lake Kivu, an hour from Ruhengeri. Her cottage
is nestled in a formal English garden which was in spectacular bloom the
day I visited. This was another Africa, the Africa of Blixen, of devoted
houseboys, a gracious, bygone Africa where roles were well defined and
the meaning of life was clear. Mrs. Carr, a glamor ous, gray-haired woman
of about seven
ty, came to the door
and-showing me into her cozy living room, with a fireplace, rugs, pillows,
a pet gray parrot on a stand, lots of books, old New Yorkers on the table-called
into the kitchen for her cook to bring tea. She apologized for being temporarily
understaffed. Her houseboy had taken the day off to look after his sick
daughter. "She may have grippe," Mrs. Carr explained. "He thinks she was
poisoned by an enemy, and is paying a Rwandan woman a month's salary to
"Dian was the dearest, sweetest person," she told me. "Oh God, she was
just marvelous to her friends. Knowing I have foot problems, she once brought
me twenty-four dollars' worth of Dr. Scholl's foot pads. These scientiststhey're
so jealous of each other, so unkind. Some of them were the pits, real weirdos.
One was gay. The other was on drugs. One I practically threw out of the
Mrs. Carr grew up in New Jersey, obviously on the right side of the tracks,
married a British coffee grower, and came to Africa in 1949. "I knew Dian
from the beginning, right after she was chased out of the Congo," she went
on. "I introduced her to Alyette DeMunck. My impression at first was that
this was a girl who is so dedicated to one idea that she is very eccentric.
She had no interest in Africans, only in animals. She and I were completely
different in that respect. My falling in love with Africa was with the
people. Every Sunday I have dancing for them in my garden. She wanted to
get rid of the Africans on the mountain. We had problems because of this.
I had great sympathy for the Watusi cattlemen."
Mrs. Carr told me how Alexi, Dian's Rhodesian fiance from Notre Dame, came
to rescue her after her troubles in the Congo and take her home but she
refused to go, and about her affair with Bob Campbell, and said that many
suitors-young diplomats, wellborn Europeans on safari-hoofed it up the
mountain after that. "But she was elusive. We all admit she wasn't easy
to get on with. When she was disgusted she wasn't as forgiving as she might
have been. But the biggest lie is that she was a heavy drinker. She drank
less than anybody I know. She visited me a hundred times and never took
more than one drink, scotch and water, before lunch. In her last years
she became sweeter. I was her only real friend, and she poured her heart
out to me in her letters. She wrote every ten days. Last August I burned
a stack of them; I had no idea she was going to be killed. In her last
letter she said, Oh, Roz, I need a friend so much. So many people are against
Despite Dian's opposition to it, the Mountain Gorilla Project has been
a great success. Since 1979 gorilla tourists have increased the Parc des
Volcans' receipts by 2,000 percent, and the number of guards, guides, and
administrators has doubled. Local appreciation of the gorillas and the
forest, which is needed not just for the gorillas but to prevent erosion
and drought, has grown dramatically.. A recent popular Rwandan song goes,
"Where can the gorillas go? They are part of our country. They have no
other home." In 1979 thirty gorilla skulls were seized, and a prominent
European trafficker in gorilla parts was expelled from the country.
Bill Weber, who worked on the project until recently, is not one of Dian'
s fans. "I only knew the person I had to deal with for eight years," he
told me as we sat on the porch of the comfortable colonial villa in Ruhengeri
where he lives with Amy Vedder and their children, "and this was a sad
person. She was riding on some kind of dedication she had once had. Why
did she hardly ever go out to the gorillas if they were her life-motivating
force? She criticized others of 'me-itis,' yet she kept threatening to
bum the station down and all the long-term records. She was willing to
take down everything with herKarisoke, the gorillas. When I did a census
that indicated the gorilla population was growing quite nicely, she tried
to cut off my funding; she wanted them to be dying.
"Dian could have had all the accolades in the world for what she did during
the first six years. It would have been natural for others to build on
her work, but she didn't have the self-confidence or the character for
that to happen. So many people came over here inspired by Dian Fossey,
prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt. No one wanted to fight her.
No one wanted to take over the place. She invented so many plots and enemies.
She kept talking about how nobody could take it up there, how they all
got 'bushy,' but in the end she was the only one who went bonkers. She
didn't get killed because she was saving the gorillas. She got killed because
she was behaving like Dian Fossey."
When Dian returned to Rwanda in 1983 she was "unefemme epuisee," a worn-out
woman, a man with O.R. T.P.N. told me. She said, not jokingly, that she
had come home to die; Three years in America had been a nice break, but
there was no place for her there. To Westerners who have been away from
the West, the hardest part is coming back. The culture seems tame, self-centered,
materialistic, way out of perspective. And what could she have done in
the States? She wasn't a success as a teacher or a lecturer. Audiences
found her aloof and intimidating.
"This time her
disposition was excellent," Alain Monfort, a Belgian who had been acting
conservateur of the Parc des Volcans during Dian's most impossible period,
recalled. "Let's forget everything. Start at zero," she told Monfort. The
porters carried her up to Karisoke on a stretcher.
The path to Karisoke is steep and slippery. At every other step I sank
into six inches of mud. Twice a gigantic earthworm-sixteen inches long
and three-quarters of an inch in diameterlay in the path. The porters and
I rose through the bamboo and nettle zones, and after two hours we reached
the saddle between Karisimbi and Visoke. The path leveled out and led through
parklike Hagenia woodland. Dazzling little birds with names like scarlet-tufted
malachite sunbird darted among lichenbearded branches and drank nectar
from showy yellow Hypericum flowers. It seemed like a fairyland, except
that it was booby-trapped with poachers' snares and full of mean-tempered
buffalo-Sandy Harcourt had been almost gored to death by one-and the conditions
for fieldwork, what with the altitude, the dampness, the vertical terrain,
the mud, the nettles, and the isolation, were very daunting. When I thought
of Dian up here for the better part of two decades, replaying over and
over what had happened to her at Rumangabo, and all the other abuses and
heartbreaks she had suffered, with one after another of the animals she
had come to know and love deeply being killed and horribly mutilated, I
could see how she might have become a little erratic.
The cabin where I stayed was cozy, with two beds, a writing table, and
a wood stove in which my houseboy fired up some deadwood. Then he took
my wet, muddy clothes and boots off to be cleaned and came back with a
basin of hot water. This is the one luxury at Karisoke-servants. As I sponged
off I could see huge white-naped ravens strutting around outside, and reddish,
high-haunched, deerlike duikers walking delicately among the trees.
Fifty yards uphill from my cabin was Dian's, still locked and guarded.
Even David Watts was unable to get in. It is the largest cabin, at the
far end of the camp, with three fireplaces. For a shack it is quite palatial.
Fifty yards in the other direction was Wayne McGuire's cabin. Wayne is
another American primatologist. He discovered Dian's body and had been
holding the fort until David's arrival. I went down to meet him that evening,
after he got back from the gorillas. Thirty-four, bearded, with glasses,
he seemed a little apprehensive and freaked out, but considering what he
had been through, he was holding up remarkably well. Wayne grew up in a
lower-middle-class family in Hoboken. There was no money for college. He
put himself through the University of Oklahoma, and now, two degrees later,
he was collecting data for a dissertation on "The Effects of Male Parental
Care on Immature Survival." After sending her his proposal twice and waiting
two years, he had been chosen by Dian over dozens of applicants. He and
a girlfriend, also a primatologist, had been supposed to come out together,
but at the last moment they had broken up. For nine months he had been
up here alone, except for Dian during the first five; shifts of camp staff,
park guards, and Digit Fund antipoaching patrols, which he'd been having
to oversee since her death, although he could barely communicate with them;
the gorillas, of course; and a procession of reporters from the New York
Times, the Washington Post, People, Life, even a crew from the Today show,
who had slogged up the mountain, asked lots of questions, taken pictures,
then headed back down a few hours later. People, he told me, had blown
out of proportion something he had said, about how Dian had kept a lock
of his hair and had used it to control him. True, he had found in Dian's
cabin an envelope with the word Wayne on it in her writing, and the envelope
contained hair that could have been his; but he had no evidence that she
was trying to control him. For the first month after the murder, he had
slept with a gun. Now he was pretty sure nothing was going to happen. He
had fifteen more months of data collecting to do, and, murder or no, he
was going to hang in here. "B ut even a lousy relationship would be better
than this," he complained.
Most of the
time, he and Dian had gotten along fine. Once or twice a month she would
invite him to her cabin to dinner. Occasionally she would explode at him
for no reason, but he learned to use "the Gandhi strategy,"
to let it in one ear
and out the other. "Dian was very lonely and vulnerable," he said. "It
wasn't that she was a racist, she just disliked human beings. She'd turn
her back on people but secretly want to be with them. Compared to people,
the gorillas are so attractive, so accepting, so easy. You can project
a whole lot on them."
At Christmas, as a joke, Dian gave Wayne a package of condoms from Ziz,
a prolific silverback with eleven mates and twenty-four gorillas in his
group. Then, two mornings afterward, at 6:30, the men awaken him and say
they can't find Nyiramacibili, which is a delicate way of saying something
terrible has happened. He pulls on his long johns and goes up with them
to her cabin. The tin sheet under her bedroom window has been snipped out.
The living room has been tom apart. The place has been ransacked. They
all just stand there in shock. Finally Wayne makes his way into the bedroom,
moving away boxes and overturned furniture that block the entrance. Dian
is lying on the floor with her head and a shoulder slumped on the bed.
At first Wayne thinks she has had a heart attack, but as he draws near
to give her artificial respiration he notices a little blood on the sheet
under her head, and he sees that she has been whacked clean across the
face-he can see into her skull-and also smacked on the back of her head
with a blunt instrument. "It looked as if she got hit on the back of the
head, rolled out of bed, then got hit across the face," he told me. "It
was definitely a setup, a professional hit-fast, quiet, and effective.
Someone knew what he was doing." David Watts feels the same way: the murder
was a premeditated, long-simmering act related to her personal war with
the poachers. Somebody had staked the place out and found that she often
drank herself to sleep. The reason she didn't greet the intruder with a
hail of bullets may have been that she was passed out. A pistol was on
the floor by her side, and a cartridge clip-but the wrong clip. Dian had
had an eye operation the summer before, and her eyesight was bad. Apparently
fumbling to load her gun, she had grabbed the wrong clip. Wayne said she
had also been suffering from insomnia for the previous two weeks. Maybe
with the help of alcohol or pills she had finally sunk into a deep sleep.
There was no autopsy. A French doctor came up to do the coroner's report
and was so horrified by what he saw that he said there was no need for
an autopsy; the cause of death was clear. It would have been useful to
have had her blood checked for alcohol, drugs, or poison. With all the
tracking expertise in camp, no one thought to track the intruder. Or maybe
the tracks didn't lead out of camp. The police came up and took a lot of
large, glossy pictures, then launched their African-style investigation.
According to my sources, one of their suspects is Wayne, because (I got
two versions of this), either: after the cabin was locked he broke into
it; or, the police asked Wayne if he had a key to the cabin and he said
he didn't, then they searched his cabin and found it. This seems to be
preposterous clutching at straws. David said that he had heard he was also
under suspicion, even though he hadn't been in the country when Dian was
Late one afternoon David and Wayne and I visited Dian's grave. She is buried
under a circle of stones just above her cabin in a simple pine coffin provided
by the American Consulate. A postcard picture of her with some gorillas
is attached to a wood plaque until the proper headstone arrives from her
parents. Around her, with plaques giving their names, are the bodies of
gorillas, most of them killed by poachers: Digit; Uncle Bert; Macho; Mwelu,
the daughter of Simba and probably Digit, a victim of infanticide by a
rival male after the shooting of Uncle Bert, so indirectly also killed
by poachers; Kweli, son of Uncle Bert and Macho, who lived three months
after being shot; Poppy's child, probably stillborn; Wageni; Marchessa;
Frito; Leo; Quince; Nunkie; Kazi; Kurudi. After reading the names, I realized
that this is a family plot. This was Dian's family. It is David's theory
that as she gave up on people the gorillas became surrogate humans for
her, and this was the source of her tragedy. There is only so much you
can get back from a gorilla. But she had loved them like a mother. Hers
was a pure, selfless love, forged in the pain of loneliness, like an artist's
love, which doesn't feed or heal your soul, and takes a lot out of you.
A damaged, driven person, herself a victim of unlove, she had this extraordinary
love, without which there would probably be no gorillas in the Virungas.
It was her love that she will be remembered for.