Endangered Gorilla of Virungas Copyright G. Nienaber
Dateline— December 1979, Karisoke Research Camp, Rwanda—Dian Fossey opens a letter from the editor of her book, Gorillas in the Mist, and learns that National Geographic Magazine has decided to “put a hold on Fossey news.” (Source: Letter from Anita McClellan to Dian Fossey. December 14, 1979; McMaster University) The magazine and its board of directors decreed that Dian Fossey was a wild card who would stymie plans to support tourism in the realm of the endangered mountain gorilla. The Boston cocktail circuit of celebrities and mainstream news media luminaries wanted someone who would work against the interests of the African people and develop a gorilla sanctuary which would function as an economic resource for conservation interests—all under the guise of “science.” The result would be hordes of tourists invading native lands and gorilla habitat. Fossey had all but eliminated poaching for antelope species and trade in gorilla parts by this time. The fuss was all about money and strategic interests, and the mantra of National Geographic that Africa was too wild, too uncivilized and too black to manage its own affairs.
Fossey would spend the rest of her days fighting for “active conservation,” while National Geographic Magazine slowly cut off her funding. Dian Fossey wrote that “Africans are the backbone” of conservation efforts, realizing that without the support and protection of “Africans for Africans,” there was little hope for either species.
There are de-classified diplomatic cables from Fossey’s time which indicate outright collusion between Melvin Payne, then President of the National Geographic Society, Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, and Rwandan Ambassador, Frank Crigler to remove Fossey from Rwanda. A smear campaign was underway to discredit her so that money-making “conservation” schemes could be implemented by the African Wildlife Fund (AWF) and the colonialist Mountain Gorilla Project.
Fossey Wanted AWF out of Rwanda Â© G. Nienaber
Farley Mowat writes in Virunga, that Vance told Crigler that embassy cables from Rwanda about Fossey had been copied to National Geographic. These cables detailed a plan to remove Fossey from Rwanda so that AWLF could take over.
There were also other sinister forces at work that would resurface during the Rwandan genocide. Protais Zigiranyirazo was governor of Ruhengeri Province in Rwanda when Fossey worked there. Zigiranyirazo was also the brother-in-law of the Hutu President of Rwanda, Juvenal Habyiramana, whose death in a mysterious plane crash ignited the Rwandan “genocide” of 1994. In a controversial ruling, a French tribunal has implicated the current President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, in the assassination. Zigiranyirazo is currently ensconced in Arusha Prison for war crimes and genocide— the murder of Dian Fossey considered a lesser crime.
Diplomatic cables and writing from that time indicate that higher ups realized Zigiranyirazo was a likely suspect in Fossey’s murder. He was involved in illegal trading in endangered species and gold smuggling out of Congo, and there is much additional evidence in the historical record that Fossey was about to expose him when she was murdered.
Fossey was buried in the same graveyard as the gorillas she so valiantly attempted to protect, and National Geographic Magazine went on to provide logistical support for a movie which would forever tarnish her legacy and portray her as a madwoman—the society failed to taint her image while she was alive, but it was a slam-dunk once she was gone.
In a 1988 article, “THE MEDIA BUSINESS: Advertising; Plan Helps Risky Film to Succeed,” the New York Times explained how to sell a complicated story about Africa (the film Gorillas in the Mists) to the masses in America.
Thomas Pollock, chairman of the MCA Motion Picture Group, said, ‘‘we promoted different elements of the film. The story involves Ms. Fossey's work in Africa, as well as her romance with a married photographer. With women older than 25 in mind, ''we did a spot for the daytime soap operas,'' Mr. Pollock said. The spot played off the notion of a woman choosing between her career and a married man who gets a divorce in order to marry her.”
This biographical item was an outright lie, written into the script to sell a movie. The photographer portrayed in the movie was Bob Campbell, of National Geographic Magazine. Campbell and Fossey did have a romance, but the late Rosamond Carr, friend and confident of Fossey told biographers on numerous occasions that Campbell’s betrayal of Fossey was “one of the greatest sorrows of Dian’s life.” Campbell refused to leave his wife and remains married to her to this day.
The studio also created a “more action-oriented” trailer that reflected the exotic nature of the movie, which had many of the elements of Universal's ''Out of Africa.'' The trailer was promoted on shows like ''Good Morning America'' and the ''Today Show,” according the NYT article of October 1988.
Dian Fossey was a formidable woman while she was alive and her words and those of her friends remain in defense of her legacy and the legacy of the African people—legacies which are being stolen by the neo-colonialism of conservation in the Virunga Mountains to this day.