Week 15: Fossey Archives – Conservation


rwanda volcano

Gorilla Habitat Preservation in Rwanda: An Examination of the Conflict Between Local Human Needs and the Endangered Population of Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda’s Parc des Volcans

This document is a proposed study by Dr. Dian Fossey in an attempt to analyze human encroachment and other conservation problems on the mountain gorillas in northwest Rwanda. This article had a great deal of detail, as it was a proposal for a study; it had great information about the methodology and practicality or logistics of the study.

Fossey’s proposed project was an 18 month study of the past, present and future statuses of mountain gorillas in Rwanda, the ones that she primarily focused on during her research. She examines the history of gorilla inhabitants in the volcano region of Rwanda as well as an examination of the current state of the gorillas. The study also attempts to look at “human encroachment,” by looking at the ways in which this problem manifests itself in northwest Rwanda. The study also provides “alternative practices and regional development plans” in order to assist local inhabitants in sustainability and conservation to subsequently help gorilla populations.

The Rwandan government, in the 1970s, appropriated the land for various projects. At the time of the study, 10,000 hetacres of the gorilla land had been taken from the park boundaries. Human encroachment occurred not only through the government, but some practices did not mean to harm gorilla habitats, but did so on an equally harmful scale. The article notes grazing practices from pastoral farmers, wood-cutting and grass-cutting. These types of clearings have important negative implications for gorilla migration and therefore species sustainability.

The overall intent of the article is not made clear right away, but after reading through the entire document, it became obvious that the most effective way Fossey could help conservation efforts was through population growth, plain and simple. The methods for the proposed study centered around studying gorilla populations to determine the best possible ways to help achieve this goal.

This article first focuses on how statutes and law enforcement must be strong in order to help preserve these lands. It also proposes that in order to truly determine gorilla habitat needs, we must look at group-interactions. By looking at the behavior of the gorillas, it can provide and “overall evaluation of habitat essential for preservation.”

This study truly desired the support from the local community, especially in the “planning and implementation of alternative resource development project.” The study suggests that appealing to the emotions of the public could help garner sympathy and therefore support. It seems as though the article wanted to ensure local practices could be maintained, though slightly altered to ensure human encroachment on gorilla territory was kept at a minimum. This study looks not only at how to adjust the lifestyles of local populations, but it makes heavy attempts to ensure the popularity of the efforts. The proposal calls for public awareness; through efforts to educate the public, particularly the local public, the study could gain support for conserving gorilla habitat.

The proposed study gives good information about how we can go about studying conservation in gorillas, and other species, for that matter, even today. The proposal exhibited several pros and cons. I particularly liked how the approach was oriented towards population regeneration, as that is essentially the meat of the problem. It was also great that the study would attempt to reach out to the local communities. It was very much a grassroots movement, and working from the bottom up ensures sustainability of not only gorilla populations, but also the local inhabitants as well. This study does not, however, give a lot of information about how they attempted to deal with the Rwandan government. I imagine that today there are quite a deal of safety hazards and difficulties working through the government that might not have existed in 1977.


Wake Forest University’s Howard T.P. Hayes Special Collections and Archives documents on Dian Fossey Collection. Box 13, Document Number MS 595.



One thought on “Week 15: Fossey Archives – Conservation

  1. It is very intriguing that Fossey discussed garnering public support so much in this proposal, when her actions seem to have pointed otherwise. In the document I looked at, Fossey detailed how conservation efforts in her mind involved taking physical action. Specifically, she described basically torturing a poacher that was caught before handing him over to be put in jail. Actions such as that are incredibly detrimental if her true goal is establishing a positive relationship with the locals. Personally, it seems to me as though she did not actually believe in what she wrote in this proposal, or that she simply grew impatient and decided to become some sort of strange, twisted vigilante.

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