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    Dian Fossey Archive of Letters and Photographs. A group of eleven letters from Fossey, photographs (including four taken in Africa), and other related letters and documents from very early in Fossey's career. Fossey's letters date from January 23 through December 31, 1967, and document her travels to Nairobi and the Virunga Mountains.

    Dian Fossey had always had a great love for animals, and enrolled in pre-veterinary classes at UC Davis, despite her parents' disapproval. In 1963, she used her life savings to purchase a trip to Africa and spent seven weeks there. It was during this trip that Fossey met Louis S.B. Leakey and his wife, who fostered her interest in the study of great apes. Three years later, Leakey helped to raise funding for Fossey's research trip to the Congo to study gorillas in the Virunga Mountains, sponsored by the National Geographic Foundation and the Wilkie Foundation in Illinois. Also on this trip, she was able to meet with Jane Goodall and study the tracking methods and habits of chimpanzees, which she would use while studying gorillas.

    After arriving in Nairobi in December of 1966, Fossey quickly got to work preparing for her research expedition. Apart from normal provisions, she also acquired a Land Rover, which she took with her to the Congo. One of her early letters to her parents details Fossey's early impressions and experiences in the mountains. One page, front and back, 7.75" x 9.75", dated January 23, 1967, in part: "We have found 2 large families so far & have spent a total of 9 hrs & 37 min, observing them. This may not sound like any great length of time, but has entailed 30 hours of hideous mo. climbing hand over hand gorilla-style to make it possible. I've taken 8 type written pages of notes, some of which are very interesting, but of course this is only a drop in the bucket. I'm slowly beginning to get fit, I hardly some smoke at all anymore - you can't at this altitude. I'm eating like a horse, sleeping 10 hours a night & taking every vitamin & health pills known to mankind. I'm a long way from climbing hills without sounding like a diesel engine, but time will take care of that too I hope."

    Well into the second month of her research, Fossey wrote to her parents about an amusing run in with a herd of elephants. She goes on to relate being thrilled at the experience of being charged by one of her study subjects, which must have been rather unsettling for her parents. One page, front and back, 7.75" x 9.75", dated February 27, 1967, in part: "Also planted a garden this month on the slope of the hill behind the meadow in the rich fertile soil. For three days I prematurely and proudly envisioned the wealth of the bountiful harvest and on the 3rd night a herd of damn elephants choose to create a freeway right thru the middle of my garden! Why with the entire bloody Congo to frolic in they had to select my little patch of ground, I'll never know. Then, add insult to injury, they decided to investigate my tent - this is at one A.M.! I awoke to the sounds of copious amounts of dung being deposited at my doorstep, belly rumbles and the rocking motion of my cot and the tent. For a moment I thought the volcano was erupting and begrudged having to go that way!...The gorilla work is going well, we have had 3 births & 1 death of an infant. I recovered the body today after a very prolonged search which will make Mr. Leakey happy. Have been charged 3 times. The 1st was the most exciting as the [illegible] male ended his charge right on top of a log that I fell under - it was really a thrill especially when accompanied by chest beats, roar & all."

    Dian Fossey's risky adventures continued into March. As well as dealing with Africa's rainy season, she also had a run-in with a small group of native hunters. In a letter back home, she relates the following: "This has been a relatively quiet month compared to Feb, because the rains have started for keeps along with the hail which hurts like holy hail when it hits you on the head! Most of the elephants and buffalo and two groups of gorilla have moved down the mt. - they have good sense! Last Sunday, in an effort to find more gorilla Sanwekwe and I descended the eastern slope of the mt. into an area of rainforest straight out of M.G.M. In the deepest, darkest, darkest part of the jungle we met 4 Batu hunters armed with spears and pangas and [illegible] dogs. Naturally, we could not continue as the minute our backs were turned we would have ended up in someone's kettle. So while Sanwekwe held his gun on them, I disarmed them & then we proceeded to march them through the tunnels of the jungle to the nearest village." [One page, front and back, 7.75" x 9.75", dated March 24, 1967].

    The political unrest in the country caused a frightening disruption to Fossey's research. Rebellions had broken out in the region, and in July, a group of soldiers halted the research and removed Fossey and her assistants from the camp. She was held at the military base Rumangabo for a period of two weeks before eventually bribing the guards to aid her escape. However, by September, Fossey was back on track with her research, having moved her site of study to the Virungas Mountains. It was here, on September 24, that Fossey founded the Karisoke Research Center. In a letter to her friend and mentor, Dr. Louis S.B. Leakey, Fossey wrote about her new successes in studying gorillas. One page, 8" x 12.75", dated September 28, 1967, in part: "You will be very happy to know I've found a utopia - not only for gorilla but for me as well. I am now camped on the meadow that I saw from the upper slopes of Karisimbi on the 1st of September - as a matter of fact, locating this campsite was probably the only good thing that came out of that Karisimbi survey. Not only is the area teeming with gorilla, it is also beautiful beyond description and completely protected on all sides by the volcanoes so there is no wind and the rainy season that now prevails is completely bearable...Dr. Leakey, I've been here four days now and already seven hours of observation! The area is teeming with gorilla...they are everywhere and because of this it is almost impossible to track properly because of the network of fresh trails. What I find impossible to understand is why they have gathered here."

    During her early research, Fossey also developed a close friendship with famed chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall. She had already studied Goodall's research and tracking methods early into the expedition, but this letter from December 31, 1967, reveals the two women's genuine friendship. One page, front and back, 7.75" x 9.75", in part: "Jane Goodall and her husband have turned out to be great friends. I feel I've known them all my life. They took me on safari for Christmas and almost made me feel non-homesick. We camped by a big lake, had wild duck for dinner, English plum pudding fried in brandy, a real Christmas tree, silly gifts and even sang carols - then I became a bit sad. On the 3rd I will be flying to the chimp study area with them, but only for two days. I am due to leave from Nairobi on the 7th for the Congo...Jane Goodall also gave me her thesis to read, so I've learned a great deal. Also have been taking lessons from Leakey & staff in plant pressing, compass reading, determining latitude & longitude & heights. In addition to learning, I've also been allowed free reign in providing for my equipment & supplies. This was almost as funny as the driving lesson for I'm very unknowledgeable about safari equipment. At any rate, I think I have enough of everything - time will tell."

    Included in the archive are four small color photographs taken in Africa. Most notably, there is a small photo (3.5" x 2.5") of gorillas that Fossey has captioned on the back, "22 - These are 3 of my little friends - not a good picture but they are not good subjects either." Additional photos in the archive are family photos taken in the U.S.

    Dian Fossey continued her research at Karisoke through to 1970, when she returned to school in order to gain a Ph.D. in animal behavior. Through her work, Fossey was able to habituate with a number of groups of gorillas, and her research aided in changing public perception of gorillas. Though some of her methods were unconventional, Fossey provided valuable research about the habitats and behaviors of mountain gorillas, and aided in raising awareness for the protection of these creatures. These early letters are a rare glimpse into Fossey's early work. Also included in the archive are black and white, as well as colored photographs (many dated October 1966), along with telegraphs and letters from her father, George Murphy USS, and L.S.B. Leakey of the National Museum Centre for Prehistory and Paleontology in Nairobi. There are also multiple newspaper clippings that detail Fossey's scientific research. A truly stunning collection that provides a snapshot of Fossey at the beginning of her career.

    Condition: All letters have usual mail folds, with varying degrees of toning and soiling; condition ranges from very good to very fine. Photographs are good. Overall a very well-preserved

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