Steadfast dedication to his family cost Digit his life in 1977, when the mountain gorilla held off six poachers and their dogs. His death underscores man's unrelenting intrusion upon the wild gorillas' habitat in central Africa, where the author lived among these huge but shy animals for 13 years. Having done much to reveal the gorillas' peaceful nature, she now confirms a darker side of their behavior.
Steadfast dedication to his family cost Digit his life in 1977, when the mountain gorilla held off six poachers and their dogs. His death underscores man's unrelenting intrusion upon the wild gorillas' habitat in central Africa, where the author lived among these huge but shy animals for 13 years. Having done much to reveal the gorillas' peaceful nature, she now confirms a darker side of their behavior.
Photograph by Dian Fossey

The Imperiled Mountain Gorilla: A Grim Struggle for Survival

After a decade of living among Africa’s mountain gorillas, researcher Dian Fossey describes deadly human intrusion and deadly behavior, too, as group leaders struggle for dominance.

It was Digit, and he was gone. The mutilated body, head and hands hacked off for grisly trophies, lay limp in the brush like a bloody sack.

Ian Redmond and a native tracker took the initial shock. They stumbled on the spear-stabbed and mangled body at the end of a line of snares set by antelope poachers. Stunned with grief and horror, Ian composed himself and set out to find me in another part of the forest. An outstanding student helper, he shared my aim to balance research with the goal of saving the imperiled mountain gorillas that I was studying from my base camp in the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda, in central Africa.

For me, this killing was probably the saddest event in all my years of sharing the daily lives of mountain gorillas, now diminished to only about 220 individuals—a reduction by half in just 20 years. Digit was a favorite among the habituated gorillas I was studying: In fact, I was unashamed to call him "my beloved Digit."

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