In 1963, Dian Fossey, a director of occupational therapy at a children’s hospital, took out a bank loan and combined it with her entire life savings to visit Africa for the first time. She was driven by a lifelong love for animals and a close friend’s stories of the continent’s beautiful and diverse landscapes. This trip marked the beginning of a lifetime of work that would ultimately become an enduring global legacy: studying conservation and primatology to protect vulnerable mountain gorillas in Rwanda.
“It was their individuality combined with the shyness of their behavior that remained the most captivating impression of this first encounter with the greatest of the great apes. I left Kabara with reluctance but with never a doubt that I would, somehow, return to learn more about the gorillas of the misted mountains,” Fossey reflected in her memoir.
Fossey set up two small tents in the Virunga wilderness and named the camp “Karisoke,” after nearby Mt. Karisimbi and Mt. Bisoke. The work she began there has since grown into the world’s centerpiece for gorilla research and conservation, producing most of the scientific community’s knowledge about gorillas.
Although Fossey’s life was tragically cut short, her work has continued since 1967 through what is today called the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. The organization has grown to encompass conservation efforts for other wildlife in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) and prioritizes extensive scientific research, education efforts, and community development programs for the people who live near the gorillas. The Fossey Fund has over 300 staff in Rwanda and eastern DR Congo, protecting vulnerable gorilla populations— like mountain gorillas and Grauer’s gorillas— and some of the world’s richest biodiversity in its most critical forests.
The organization’s integrated approach to conservation combines supporting the livelihoods and food security of local communities with building the capacity of African conservationists. Tens of thousands of people in nearby communities benefit from the Fossey Fund’s programs, in addition to those who work directly for the organization.
While the Fossey Fund’s programs operate in Rwanda, where Fossey’s journey of conservation began, and now also in DR Congo, it became evident in the mid-1990s that a stateside office and team would be necessary to continue to fully support this work. In 1995, Dr. Terry Maple, the director of Zoo Atlanta and then president of the Fossey Fund’s board of trustees, made a generous offer to provide the Fossey Fund a home for its U.S. headquarters at Zoo Atlanta, where it has remained and flourished ever since.
Nearly 30 years later, however, a growing staff of dedicated conservationists continued to fill the space and push the limits of functionality for the dynamic, ever-evolving landscape of the Fossey Fund. Epsten Group was honored to be chosen as the design firm trusted with an office renovation that would bring the space into the 21st century and provide the Fossey Fund’s staff with the best space possible for the world-changing work they do every day.
The renovation will center around maximizing space for collaboration and thought partnership to be used for staff, board and committee meetings, and donor engagement. It will derive aesthetic and functional inspiration from the Fossey Fund’s stunning new Ellen DeGeneres Campus in Rwanda, ensuring members of both teams feel interconnected in their global mission.
The intricate web of impact between conscious habitat design and equally sustainable design for spaces that caretakers and conservationists inhabit is extensive, and simultaneously crucial to the success of organizations like the Fossey Fund.
There is no overstating the impact of the Fossey Fund on the conservation of vulnerable gorilla species, the protection of threatened ecosystems globally, and the continued education and support of scientists, conservationists, and activists across the world. The work they do every day honors and breathes life into the legacy of Dian Fossey and her love for our earth and its diverse species. Our design team and zoo specialists are honored to continue in our partnered work to provide these dedicated conservation heroes with a supportive, flexible, and innovative space to continue the work they do each day to protect the most vulnerable inhabitants of our planet.