The historical Dian Fossey established the famous Karisoke Research Center on 24th Sept 1967 in the Rwanda gorilla safari destination of Volcanoes National Park in between the mountains Bisoke and Karisimbi whose combination formed the background for its naming.
Karisoke had a humble beginning justified by Dian Fossey’s writings in
her book titled the Gorillas in the Mist; she notes that little did she
know that by establishing two small tents in the Virunga wilderness was a
great foundation for what increased to become a great research center
worldwide and utilized by the students and researchers from various
parts of the world.
The initial focus of the Dian Fossey and her
research center at Karisoke was about studying mountain gorillas. She is
credited for having pioneered the habituation of mountain gorillas,
gorilla identification, gorilla tracking that later resulted into gorilla trekking safaris in Rwanda,
gorilla range mapping along with the primate research techniques that
have become of use in the contemporary times. Dian Fossey in her process
of studying mountain gorillas ascertained that there was a need to
ensure the mountain gorilla protection since threats like poachers
snares, the habitat encroachment by humans, cattle grazing among others
could not allow the gorillas to continue thriving.
Dian Fossey is
credited for having initiated the practices of active conservation like
the armed anti-poaching patrols and when her favorite Silverback Digit
was killed by the poachers, she set up the Digit Fund to run the active
gorilla conservation. Following her death, the name of Digit Fund was
reviewed to Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International that still runs
Karisoke up to today.
The Dian Fossey is noted to have lived in
tents for a period of one year and a half until she accepted the
European friends that thrived in the nearby towns to put up for her one
room cabin and in the next ten (10) years, a count of eight (8) were put
up at Karisoke.
Despite the efforts, the mountain gorilla
populations continued to reduce up to 1980s when the population trend
started to increase up to the current 480 mountain gorillas in the
Virunga massif sheltered by Volcanoes National Park on the Rwandan side
presenting a ground for Rwanda gorilla safaris.
There are a range of events that happened at Karisoke in the process of
working towards mountain gorilla conservation including the initiation
of anti-poaching patrols per week in 1978, inviting Dr. Leakey to send
her students for assistance in 1969 which in turn formed a ground for
students from various parts of the world to come and explore the
experience of the field and the opportunities for research, Bob Campbell
of National Geographic visited in 1969 covering the Dian Fossey work
while on 31st Dec 1977, the silverback Digit was killed by poachers and
removed hands and head from him and announcement was read on the Evening
news of CBS by Walter Cronkite. In the year 1983, the book Gorillas in
the Mist was published and it gained as the international best seller
and a film from this book was made by Sigourney Weaver gained great
success in the year 1988 that saw its initiator head the Dian Fossey
Gorilla International Fund until now.
The decade of 1990s was
challenging to the Karisoke research station as the genocide and the
civil war caused the evacuation of staff a number of times. The Karisoke
buildings faced destruction and loot. The trackers at Karisoke lost
their possessions and homes and range of their family members were
murdered. By the year 1998, the expatriate staff at Karisoke had been
evacuated for five (5) times and the center had been destroyed 3 times
and reconstructed twice after which it was relocated to Ruhengeri.
However, despite the war threats, the Karisoke Research station
continued to strengthen her capacity for research via adopting modern
technology and creating new partnerships along with the local
authorities and other conservation organizations. The Rwandan staff
belonging to Karisoke continued to undertake a close look at the
gorillas throughout the eight (8) years though they had a 15 month
disruption. The Rwanda Patriotic Front took the records at Karisoke in
the year 1993 but returned them intact later at a safer time.
Karisoke research station secured a GPS in the year 1993 to assist in
tracking the movements of gorilla groups and map creation. Karisoke
initiated health programmes to support the life quality of local
communities and in the year 1999, the Karisoke started to use the hyper
spectral remote sensing imagery undertake the mapping of the gorilla
habitat of Rwanda.
The publication named the 30 Years of Research
at Karisoke resulting from the conference that was organized by Max
Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology featured a range of
chapters contributed by the staff of Dian Fossey fund.
research station went ahead to habituate golden monkeys at the request
of the Park Authorities of Rwanda for study and Rwanda safaris.
The Karisoke Center has also been working with the University of Rwanda
to provide field research opportunities for the biology students. The
mountain gorilla Veterinary Project that caters for the gorillas that
have been confiscated was set up by Karisoke in collaboration with the
Park Authorities of Rwanda in 2002. In the year 2012, the Karosoke
research Center was got the first Rwandan director named Felix
Ndagijimana and in the same year, the center was shifted to a
multi-purpose building in the Musaze town which is also the new regional
resource center of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.
The works at
Karisoke Research Center cannot escape credit in anyway as they have
turned the fate of mountain gorillas from the negative trend to the
positive trend. The census which was carried out in 2003 put the
gorillas in Virunga massif at 380 individuals while the subsequent one
of 2010 put the gorilla population at 480 individuals. These numbers
have considerably increased gorillas safaris to Rwanda.