"When you realize the value of all life, you dwell less on what is past and concentrate more on the preservation of the future." Dr Dian Fossey
📸 Simone Sbaraglia
Ready to meet 3 badass female scientists that make Bear Grylls look like Louis Walsh?! Great. So, Kenyan anthropologist Louis Leakey rose to fame after helping demonstrate that humans evolved in Africa. But perhaps his greatest legacy was in fostering 3 young female researchers: Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas. Leakey personally chose these promising ladies to research 3 great apes (chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans) in their natural habitats, and endearingly referred to them as the 'Trimates' or 'Leaky's Angels' - think of them like Charlie's Angels, but with more science and ape faeces! 😇💩 Leakey believed their research would be key in helping to unravel the origins of human evolution, but the Trimates went on to achieve so much more, and became global icons in the field of primatology and strong advocates for the conservation of primates and the rest of the natural world. So, let's meet the girls:
Dr Dian Fossey
Dian was a gutsy American scientist who gained gained her PhD from Cambridge and studied mountain gorillas in the
mountain forests of Rwanda for over 18 years!
If you've ever seen Tarzan you'll know that Gorillas live in family groups, and like us, are protective of their families. This makes getting up close and personal in a dense forest extremely difficult, especially with gorillas whose only interactions with humans have been negative, i.e. poachers & protective farmers (gorillas sometimes grab a take-away from a farmers crop). However, this didn't stop Dian, who eventually found that mimicking certain dismissive gorilla behaviours helped develop a degree of trust with gorilla families, allowing her to observe them up close and personal - she basically crawled around, grunted, and ate some celery. 🦍
📸 Ian Redmond
Dian went on to establish Gorilla Fund in 1967, a charity which helps in the study and protection of gorillas & their habitats in Congo & Rwanda - central Africa. No-one had studied gorillas before Dian, and they were consequently portrayed as vicious beasts because people feared what they didn't understand. But by intricately studying their behaviours, Dian recognised them to be kind-natured and intelligent animals, and she fiercely protected the gorillas she came to love. Although hunting gorillas was illegal, park staff on poor wages were easily bribed by poachers, and so the laws weren't enforced. Again, this didn't stop Dian, who raised money via her charity and employed staff to help her destroy poachers traps. To give you an idea of her efforts & how corruption affected poaching, Dian's patrol of 4 African staff destroyed 987 poachers' traps over a 4-month period in 1979, whereas the official Rwandan national park guards of 24 African staff destroyed zero traps during the same period.
Guide clearing a trap set to catch mountain gorillas 📸 Martin Harvey
Dian fought hard all her life to protect gorillas against poaching and corruption in central Africa. Tragically, Dian was found murdered in her cabin in the Virunga mountains on December 27th 1985. The last entry in her diary read: "When you realize the value of all life, you dwell less on what is past and concentrate more on the preservation of the future." Gorillas in the Mist is an awesome documentary telling Dian's story - a passionate and heroic woman who dedicated her life to protecting a species which couldn't protect itself from the greed of man. But don't take my word for it, let this deep mysterious voice tell you more...
Dr Birutė Galdikas
Dr Birutė Galdikas is of Lithuanian descent, but grew up in Canada and received her doctorate from UCLA after approaching Leakey about studying orangutans. She arrived in Borneo with her husband in 1971 at just 25, and in rainforest conditions tough enough to give Ray Mears a run for his money, proceeded to make invaluable contributions to the scientific understanding of Indonesia's biodiversity and rainforests. Galdikas brought the orangutan into global spotlight and established Orangutan Foundation International (OFI) in 1971. She's now the world's leading authority on orangutans, with little being known about the species before her field research.
OFI study and help to conserve our critically endangered hairy ginger relatives in the wild, making sure they have a home in the 21st century. OFI was recently involved in some pretty sweet new conservation work, as they helped transport 10 orphaned orangutans (they lost their parents due to deforestation & the pet trade) by helicopter 🚁into a privately leased forest in Central Kalimantan this February.
📸 Simon Fraser University [CC BY 2.0]
📸 Simone Sbaraglia
However, conserving wild orangutans is increasingly difficult as humans threaten their populations and rainforests with continuously expanding oil palm plantations - damnit Josh, that's terrible! How can I help?!! Well, I thought you'd never ask. We've interviewed a palm oil expert so you can find out everything you need to know here. Essentially, it's easy - palm oil is found in >50% of packaged products in supermarkets, from biscuits to cosmetics, so just make sure you buy sustainable palm oil when shopping. Be sure to look for this logo on the right on your next trip!
Dr Jane Goodall
Jane Goodall is perhaps the most famous Trimate, known for her epic 57 year study on chimpanzees in Tanzania. Jane's revolutionary research put a dent in the human ego and demonstrated that other animals are capable of using tools, as well as having personalities, a high level of intelligence and complex emotions - Que VT:
Jane also discovered that, like us, chimpanzees have a darker side to their nature, and can be methodical and brutal - but of course, not this cute little cuddly chimp, he's just adorable...
📸 European Union (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
To help support her research, Jane founded the Jane Goodall Institute which focuses on chimp and primate conservation. Jane also founded the Roots & Shoots program, which helps support youngsters in over 140 countries to work in conservation. Jane continues her work to this day as a global ambassador for wildlife conservation & UN Messenger of peace - what a woman! Dr Goodall also recently released an online masterclass, which includes 29 lessons on animal intelligence, conservation, and activism for just $90!! The course looks awesome, it's comprised of video lessons so you can see first hand how to “act locally” and protect the planet from one of the worlds greatest conservationists! Jane also critiques certain students work personally, so make sure you stand out from the crowd!
📸 Simone Sbaraglia
So there you have it, 3 incredibly brave and intelligent women who spent their lives in some of the most remote and dangerous places imaginable, in pursuit of a world with a little more compassion for some of our closet living relatives and the rest of the natural world. 🌎