Posted by Diana Madaras on Aug 18, 2023
Fifty years ago, Dian Fossey who devoted her life to the study and protection of the Virunga mountain gorillas, predicted that the species would be extinct before the end of the 20th century. Sadly, Fossey did not live to see that her own sacrifices and the work of many that followed in her footsteps insured that her dire prediction did not come true. Today, well into the 21st century, the mountain gorillas of Rwanda and neighboring countries are thriving as one of the best protected and studied ape species. While this is a remarkable and rightly celebrated “conservation success story”, our presentation will focus, from a first-person perspective, on the “untold stories”—ones that are not customarily revealed in scientific reports. Yet these stories help us fully appreciate why Fossey and the many others inspired by her have devoted their lives to saving mountain gorillas: They add to our deeper understanding of the gorilla’s mind and behavior, the nature of the human-gorilla relationship, and provide a full appreciation of the heroic efforts of so many and oft unrecognized gorilla protectors.


Dr. H. Dieter Steklis received a Ph.D. degree from the University of California, Berkeley. He is currently a Professor in the School of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences at the University of Arizona.  Before joining the University of Arizona in 2005, Dr. Steklis was a Professor of Primatology at Rutgers University, the state university of New Jersey. He also served as Director of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund’s Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda (1991-1993), the Executive Director (1993-1995), and Chief Scientist and Vice-President (1995-2005) of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, International. His research and publications include the ecology, social behavior, and conservation of mountain gorillas, the evolutionary psychology of human-animal relationships, emotions and sentience in animals, and the neurobiology of social behavior in primates.
Dr. Netzin Steklis received a Master’s degree in Ecology & Evolutionarily Biology from Princeton University, and a Ph.D. in Ethology & Evolutionary Psychology from the University of Arizona. Currently she serves as Associate Professor in the School of Animal & Comparative Biomedical Sciences at the University of Arizona. She is an ethologist who has studied a variety of nonhuman primates in captive and wild settings, especially the ecology, personality, social behavior, and conservation of wild mountain gorillas in Rwanda. More recently, she has expanded her research, publications, and teaching to include the history and consequences of animal domestication, and the biopsychology of human-animal interrelationships.
In 2002, Dieter and Netzin were jointly honored for their work with mountain gorillas with the Explorers Club “Champions of Wildlife Award”. In recognition of their innovative and outstanding “team teaching” at the University of Arizona, in 2021, Dieter and Netzin were co-recipients of the Univ. of Arizona’s David E. Cox Teaching Award.