Gorillas in the Mist




Gorillas in the Mist


Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey is an excellent account of her thirteen years studying gorillas in the Virungas Mountains. Gorillas in the Mist shows the public that gorillas were not the evil monsters that we have come to think of them as. Through careful research Dain Fossey was able to bring an understanding to the eyes of the public about gorilla behavior, social structure, and the gorilla’s individualism.
Dian Fossey started her research in September of 1963. Fossey’s original goals were to meet the mountain gorillas of Mt. Mikeno in the Congo, as well as meet with Dr. Leaky. While her goal was to do a short-term study, but after meeting Dr. Leaky she was persuaded to undergo a long-term study. Her first attempt at this study ended badly; she fell into a hole not more than one day into her study and broke her leg. She would return to the states and then after three years return to Africa. She returned in 1966, and began her study of the gorillas of the Virungas at the Kabara Research site. A year later Fossey was pushed from Zaire by civil war and never returned to the Zaire side of the mountain range. This political unrest effected her study of the gorillas greatly. She had already established her presence to the gorilla groups, and she was able to approach the groups through the social bond she had created. She was now pushed to the Rwanda side of the mountains, and once again set up her research center and named this new site Karisoke. This movement away from the gorilla groups she had first started to study greatly slowed her research. Fossey was forced to reestablish her presence to these new groups, and was now forced to focus on reestablishing social bonds rather then data collecting research. From this new site Dian Fossey would do the bulk of her famous gorilla research for nearly thirteen years.
The work Fossey was about to under take was by comparison as important to the scientific study of primates as Jane Goodall’s work with the chimpanzees of the Gombe Stream Research Center in Tanzania. Jane Goodall had proven that chimpanzees could learn to use tools, and that became one of her most important discoveries. Dian Fossey’s work with the gorillas also had many new discoveries equally important to the study of primates as Jane Goodall. Dian Fossey first established family groups, which she simply referred to as “Groups”. She proved that gorillas have social bonds that are very family oriented. The gorilla groups consisted of as many as two to twenty one members. These groups consisted of one dominating male Silverback gorilla; some times a few females, and possibly some Blackback males. Unlike popular assumption the dominant Silverback is not always the only Silverback in any one group, but is always the strongest and largest Silverback within the group. The dominating Silverback is usually born into his group and becomes the dominant male after the old dominating male Silverback has died. In some cases he may establish himself as the groups dominating Silverback by assuming the duties of the old dominating male only if this old dominating male is to weak, ill, or old to act as the group leader. The dominant Silverback is the leader of his group. He guides his group throughout the mountains, and he also provides protection for the younger and weaker members of the group. The dominant Silverback has breeding rights to all the females of the group. The Silverback is also the first to breed with the females of the group and often the only to breed; this insures the Silverback that the next generation will be of his seed. The order within the group’s structure is maintained by this dominant Silverback as well. This social structure is very important to a group’s survival.
The female gorillas have a dominance pattern as well. The most dominant female is usually the one that has been in the group the longest, and spends most of her time grooming the dominant silverback. Fossey stated that groups without a dominant Silverback leader faired far worse, because they were unable to locate food as well as protect themselves from