It took the commitment of some few extraordinary people to ensure the survival of the critically endangered mountain gorillas, at the time when the Governments of countries where these Giant Apes are found, could not do much. Credit should therefore be accorded to the late Dian Fossey, the woman that put her life and heart to the conservation of these exceptional primates.

Dian Fossey was an American primatologist who sacrificed 18 good years of her life to save the critically endangered mountain gorillas through extensive research. She was born in 1932, in San Francisco, California and grew up with her mother and step father after her parents divorced when she was still young. Imagine living a lonely and depressed life without love hence she resorted to horse riding lessons at the age of 6 to fill the void and it was at that point that she found a company in the Horse.

With the advice of her wealthy stepfather, she later enrolled in Marin Junior College to pursue business studies while working and at 19 years during one of the summer breaks; she traveled to a Ranch in Montana. It was from that point she developed a sentimental attachment to animals but was forced to leave earlier than expected after developing chicken pox.

With the experience and love she had developed for animals, Dian Fossey decided to pursue her passion and joined as a pre-veterinary student at the University of California which didn’t go well with her parents who eventually failed to give her enough money. Unfortunately, she found so much difficulty in basic sciences especially Physics and chemistry thus transferring to San Jose State College to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Occupational Therapy until graduating in 1954.

It took this committed woman her life savings as well as a bank loan to make her dream and passion come true. In September 1963, she reached Kenya but also visited other places such as Democratic Republic of Congo (former Zaire), Tanzania and Zimbabwe. It was also with the additional funding from Louis and Mary Leakey, who were operating Anthropological Research in Olduvai Gorge that Dian Fossey was able to visit DRC where she eventually set up a Camp within Kabara to start Research on the mountain gorillas in 1967. On 9th July of the same year y, soldiers arrived at the Camp and escorted her with the Research workers, and locked them up in Rumangabo for 14 days. Fortunately she was able to escape after bribing Walter Baumgärtel of “Travelers Rest Hotel” in Kisoro but her escort was apprehended by the Ugandan Military. She was later advised by Louis Leakey to give up with DRC and start Research on the Giant Apes within the Rwandan side of which she heeded to the advice. Dian set up the “Karisoke Research Camp by combining names Karisimbi and Bisoke because it is nestled between these two Volcanoes.

This Research Camp was set up on the 24th September 1967 within the remote and lush rainforest in Ruhengeri Province in the middle of these two magnificent Virunga Volcanoes (Karisimbi and Bisoke) at an altitude of 3000 meters (9800 feet) above sea level. She began Research on the mountain gorillas, habituated them into families and established close friendship with these animals especially one particular one named “Digit”.

With Digit’s death in 1977 (killed by poachers), Dian Fossey became so bitter and surprisingly got involved in law enforcement but that cost her life because she was found dead in her cabin on the 27th December 1985 with cuts on her head and face.  Unfortunately, no one still knows that what happened to Dian Fossey in her Cabin except herself and up to now, the perpetrators have never been apprehended. However, her efforts and sacrifice never went to drain because the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund was established and currently monitors a number of these Giant Apes in Rwanda. Not only that, the “Gorillas in the Mist” film documents Dian’s work so that the whole World can see and appreciate how her sacrifice meant so much for conservation of mountain gorillas.

You can therefore hike through the jungles of Volcanoes National Park to Dian Fossey gravesite and is interestingly one of the most enjoyed activities by tourists during Rwanda tours. The trek starts by arriving at the Park Headquarters for briefing before being driven to the trailhead, which is around 30 minutes’ drive away so as to reach the Research Camp where trekkers walk for 10 minutes to the Park boundary.

Hiking from the Park boundary to the Research Center where you will also find Dian Fossey’s gravesite lasts around 90 minutes depending on your level of physical fitness and Descension lasts between one and two hours. Amazingly, you can be able to encounter the other residents of the Park such as mountain gorillas (if you are lucky), golden monkeys, forest elephants, bush duikers, buffaloes and giant forest Hogs as well as exceptional bird species during hiking. You will finally see Dian Fossey’s gravesite inscribed with words “No one loved Gorillas more, Rest in Peace dear friend eternally protected, in the sacred ground for you are home where you belong” and next to it is the resting place of her favorite Gorilla-Digit.

This invigorating Hike is an amazing experience but requires participants to be physically fit and patient. If you ever visit Rwanda and up to a challenge, then the Dian Fossey grave hike is your best choice.

Price for Dian Fossey grave hiking permits

Permits for this activity cost only $75 per person excluding porter fees but includes guide fees. These can be acquired from the Park Headquarters and you can also be able to hire porters within the same place.