Gorillas are one of our closest primate relatives. And it’s not surprising that we see some of our behaviors and gestures in them. Our Legend of the Month Richard Natoli-Rombach, had been lucky enough to experience living alongside gorillas. In 1974, Richard worked at the Karisoke Research Centre with Dian Fossey studying the behavior of mountain gorillas.
This is where he met a silverback mountain gorilla named Digit.
Richard and Digit
“On my first day observing the mountain gorillas Digit came right up to me and sat beside me. He kept staring at the compass on my knee and then would look into my eyes as if to say, "what is that?" He always took delight in seeing me and would run by sometimes and slap me on the back. Once when laying on my stomach he grabbed the baggy seat of my pants and took delight in rocking me back and forth all the while giving that gorilla laugh that sort of sounds like the exhalation of breath.”
Richard is proud to support and wear the Gorilla Legend Bracelet. The Gorilla Legend Bracelet supports the Gorilla Doctors in their mission of saving gorillas from the constant threat of habitat loss, poaching and disease. One capsule of the bracelet holds sand from the Congo Rainforest as a reminder of the plight of the gorillas and the need to help protect them and the other capsule is empty for you to fill up.
"I brought back with me volcanic rocks that were in the stream next to my cabin. I ground up a very small amount and put in the other capsule of my Legend Bracelet. It is a reminder that I never left the mountain gorillas or the Rwandan Virungas but have taken them with me for the rest of my life."
"On my 70th birthday in a little over a year I plan on doing a fund raiser on Facebook matching funds to $700. The top bidder will get a Legend Bracelet with some of the ground up volcanic rock in the other capsule."
Dian Fossey and Digit
Dian Fossey is a primatologist and a conservation pioneer who dedicated her life in protecting the lives of gorillas. She was very passionate in wanting to study and understand these majestic creatures. In her own words,
“There was no way that I could explain to dogs, friends, or parents my compelling need to return to Africa to launch a long-term study of the gorillas. Some may call it destiny and others may call it dismaying. I call the sudden turn of events in my life fortuitous.” — Gorillas in the Mist
Digit and Dian, 1977. Image from gorillafund.org
In 1967, Dian met Digit who was then just a few years old. She named him Digit after noticing that one of his fingers was injured, most probably from being caught in a poacher’s trap. She described Digit as a youngster who is very playful and curious and was gentle and trusting as he became an adult large silverback. Dian would refer to him as her "beloved Digit".
The Tragic Death of Digit and Dian Fossey
In 1977, Digit was killed by poachers. Digit was heroic until the end. Defending his group from poachers allowing them to make a safe escape. He suffered multiple stab wounds and his head and hands were severed. Heartbroken by this senseless tragedy, Dian waged war against poachers. In memory of Digit and to raise funds to protect gorillas, Dian founded the Digit Fund which is now known as the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.
Tragically, on the night of December 26, 1985, Dian was murdered in her mountain cabin. Her grave is right next to Digit’s at her former research station at Karisoke in the Rwandan forest. Up to this date, Dian's passion and courageous work continuous to inspire many conservationist.
Farewell Dear Friend
Richard received a letter from Dian after Digit was murdered by poachers which he shared with us below.
“Here is the photo Dian took of Digit and me. He came up on a log and put his hand on my leg as if to say, "hello and farewell dear friend".