To Die For
Dedicated to Dian Fossey and to the beloved Digit
Rwanda, Africa 1977
"Where could he be?" forty-year old Dian Fossey said standing among the thick vegetation of the mountains of Rwanda.
"Simbagari, any luck?" Dian yelled to her African tracker and dear friend.
"No Mademoiselle, I do not see him," Simbagari replied.
Dian looked around frantically in hopes of seeing Digit, the big silverback gorilla hiding within the thick vegetation. But each time she pushed back bushes and plants her heart sank when she did not see the beautiful brown eyes of Digit staring back at her. Memories of the gorilla that she had come so attached flashed through her mind.
She could remember the first she had ever seen Digit. He had just been born and Dian had seen him as his mother brought him out into the open. He clung to his mother's chest tightly and his big brown eyes stared at the strange new world around him. It was a few weeks before Digit finally began to play and interact with the rest of the gorilla group. The infant had approached Dian while she sat just inches away from the group. Reaching out slowly he had touched her in such a way that it brought tears to Dian's eyes.
Dian had watched Digit grow from playful infant to a strong and beautiful silverback who had to accept the responsibilities of being the leader of his own group. She had feared for him and had loved him. The most vivid memory of Digit that remained in her mind. It had been a rainy day as Dian sat amongst the gorilla group. She saw Digit sitting a little ways away from the group. Dian wanted to sit with him and keep him company but she had thought it best to remain where she was. But a few moments later she suddenly felt the furry arm of Digit laying across her back.
He turned his big brown eyes to her and she lowered her head in a submissive manner. Slowly Dian laid her head on the majestic silverback's lap and snuggled close to him as the light rain fell down. Such moments Dian had shared with Digit. She considered him a friend and a dear one at that.
Now unable to find the big silverback, Dian was beginning to fear the worst had happened.
"Ms. Fossey!" Louis, a young student that was visiting Karisoke for a short time, called out.
"What is it?" Dian asked running towards him.
"I think we found…Digit," Louis said.
"Where?" Dian asked eagerly.
"We found him…laying against a tree, or at least what is left of his body," Louis replied lowering his eyes.
Dian froze and clenched her fists together tightly, afraid to hear the rest of Louis' explanation.
"Poachers attacked the group and Digit stayed behind to fight off the poachers. But he was defeated and the poachers…took his head and his hands," Louis finally blurted out.
Dian closed her eyes and stood in silence for a moment.
"Take me to where he is," she finally said.
Louis and the other trackers took her to where the body of Digit lay. Blood surrounded the dead silverback's body. His head was gone as well as his hands. The sight of her beloved Digit caused Dian to stop suddenly and she could only stare in horror. Slowly she walked over to the body and knelt down in front of it. Reaching out she placed her hand on Digit's arm and stroked it gently. Tears filled her eyes and caressed her face. Memories of Digit as an infant flashed through her mind once again causing her to feel more pain.
"Did you follow the poachers' trail?" she suddenly asked.
"No, we didn't," Louis said.
"Why didn't you?" Dian asked angrily, standing abruptly.
"We thought it best to come and tell you about Digit in case you came upon him yourself without knowing what had happened to him," Louis explained.
Dian sighed and looked back down at the body of Digit.
"Let's take him down the mountain to camp," Dian said.
They managed to carry Digit's body down the mountain where Dian buried him in the graveyard of other slain gorillas. As she placed a small grave marker, made by her own hands, on Digit's grave, tears filled her eyes and she laid her head on the newly dug grave and sobbed.
"Goodbye my friend," she whispered.
Dian cried herself to sleep strewn across the grave and her dreams were haunted with the frightened and confused face of Digit as the poachers attacked his group. She could see him charging towards the oncoming men and screaming in rage and anger. Suddenly she woke with the sounds of Digit's angry screams ringing in her ears.
Standing Dian walked to her cabin and found Simbagari and her other anti poaching patrollers.
"We're going to find those poachers who murdered Digit," she stated and took off up the mountain.
Find them she did and had two of them arrested. The rest escaped. After Digit's death Dian changed dramatically. She was heartbroken by the loss of Digit and made a full fledged war against the poachers. Burning their homes and stealing their cattle was just a few of her ways of protecting the rest of the gorillas. Full of determination and courage Dian started what was known as 'The Digit Fund' in hopes of letting the world know of Digit's death and how to help stop poaching. Her plan worked and she and her beloved gorillas were brought world fame.
It was dark outside and the sounds of the jungle could be heard. Dian sat in her cabin typing her field notes for the day. Stopping for a moment she glanced over at the wall where many pictures of her gorillas hung. Smiling she stood and walked over to admire the pictures, as she had done so many times. Reaching out she gently touched a picture of Digit.
Rubbing her eyes Dian walked over to the bed and laid down. Staring up at the ceiling she thought of the past few years that she had been studying the mountain gorillas. Closing her eyes she pictured the gorillas basking in the sun, the silverback staying alert for any signs of danger, the females grooming one another, and the infants playing and making contended belch vocalizations. This was her life, her world and she loved every minute of it. Thoughts of Bob Campbell, the British photographer that had come to photograph the gorillas, drifted into her mind.
"Don't you ever intend on leaving these mountains for good?" Bob had asked.
"Leave? Why would I want to leave? I have everything I could ever want here. I'm happy," she had replied.
"But don't you ever think that maybe a better life awaits you doing something else?" Bob asked.
"This is my home. I wouldn't be happy doing anything else. I love these gorillas and I'll probably stay with them until I die," was her answer.
With these thoughts in her mind Dian drifted off into a peaceful sleep.
Later on during the night footsteps approached Dian's little cabin silently. In the stranger's hand was a long machete. He neared the side of Dian's cabin where her room was located and raising his leg the intruder kicked through the thin wall and stepped in quickly. Dian, awakened by the loud crash, sat up abruptly.
"Who are you? What are you doing?" she asked frantically.
The intruder didn't give her a reply. Raising the machete he struck her in the head, slicing it open. Dian fell back onto the bed, dead from the blow. The intruder glanced at her dead body with a satisfied expression on his face, then made a hasty retreat into the mountains.
Blood streamed down Dian's face as she lay strewn across the bed. All was quiet and still. The sounds of the African mountains seemed to have been silenced as if to mourn its most beloved protector.
Dian was buried on the mountain in the gorilla graveyard next to Digit and with the other gorillas that had passed on. On her tombstone is the words "No one loved gorillas more". Many people say that she had it coming to her, that she deserved to die after acting so ridiculous over a bunch of smelly gorillas. But there are others who love her for what she did, and I am one of those people. Dian Fossey did not die in vain. Because of her the mountain gorillas have increased in population and they are better protected from poachers now. Dian Fossey is a heroine in my book.
So it is with a heavy heart that I say to Dian, "Goodbye my friend."