If you’ve ever sat down and sobbed your way through the 1988 film Gorillas in the Mist, you probably know a little about Dian Fossey. Alongside orangutan expert Biruté Galdikas and chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall, she was one of three leading female primatologists, dubbed ‘the Trimates’ – her work illuminated the complex social relationships of mountain gorillas. Unhappy in early life, San Francisco-born Dian found comfort among animals. After working in occupational therapy – which she later credited for her success interacting with apes – she pooled her life savings and travelled to Africa in 1963. There, she met palaeoanthropologist Louis Leakey, who became her mentor; in the Congo, she encountered wild mountain gorillas for the first time. Enamoured by their individuality and shy behaviour, she began a long-term study of the endangered apes, living alongside them in the Virunga Mountains. Dian won the gorillas’ trust by mimicking their submissive vocalisations and actions, and identified individuals by their unique ‘noseprints’. Her research showed the world that these gentle giants were not the vicious monsters films like King Kong would suggest. Over time, political upheaval shifted her research to the Rwandan side of the mountains, where gorillas only knew humans as poachers. Angered by the slaughter of animals she’d studied so closely, Dian pivoted from research to anti-poaching conservation. Her militant tactics made her many local enemies, and in December 1985, she was bludgeoned to death in her home. Thankfully, the research centre she founded continues to protect Virunga’s gorillas.