The History of Dian Fossey for Kids

Imagine you are hiking through the thick green mountains of Rwanda, a country deep in the heart of Africa.  It is wet and dark in the dense leaves, plants and vines and you and your team use machetes, which are large knives, to cut through the foliage as you make your way to your destination.  There is no path for you to follow, so you use animal tracks and signs.  Finally you cut through to an open area and stop in your tracks. Everyone goes quiet. Gorillas. Dozens of them lying around and frolicking in the mist. They are exactly what you have been looking for.

Tonight we are going to learn about Dian Fossey — an American woman who loved animals and grew up to become a famous zoologist, or someone who studies animal behavior.

Dian Fossey was born in San Francisco, California in 1932.  She grew up with her mother and stepfather and developed a strong love of animals at a young age.  She enjoyed horseback riding as a kid and teenager and she dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. A veterinarian is a doctor for animals.

Dian went to college in California and started studying veterinary courses, but decided to change and study occupational therapy instead.  Occupational therapy is a type of therapy that helps people who are injured or unwell to learn to use their bodies again.

After she finished college, Dian worked at a hospital in California.  She was offered a job as the director of a children’s hospital’s occupational department in Kentucky, so she moved there in 1955. In Kentucky, Dian lived on a farm and spent a lot of her free time with the farm animals.   

Dian had decided that she wanted to travel and see other parts of the world. And she really wanted to visit Africa.  So she saved up her money and in 1963, she traveled to Africa for the first time.  While she was there, she traveled to many countries, including Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and the Congo.  

In Africa Dian met a number of other scientists and researchers.  She was inspired by the work they were doing in different areas, including paleoanthropology, or the study of human fossils, and wildlife photography.  The wildlife photographers that she met were working on a movie about African gorillas.  They took Dian along on one of their trips to find the gorillas in their natural habitat.  A habitat is an animal’s natural home or environment.

When Dian first saw the gorillas on that trip, she became instantly in love with them.  She liked that they had individual personalities and were shy.  She wanted to return again to see the gorillas.

Dian went back home to Kentucky and met others who were interested in gorillas. She met a professor named Louis Leakey and together they made plans to conduct a long-term study on the gorillas of the Rwandan mountains.  

In order to conduct the research, Dian needed to live in Rwanda and so she moved there and spent her time living mostly in the mountains with the gorillas and watching them. She lived like this for four years until a war broke out and Diana had to leave to escape the war.

Dian continued to study gorillas and worked on getting a doctorate degree based on her research at Cambridge University in England.

In 1983, Dian published a book about her research and her experience living with the gorillas.  It was called Gorillas in the Mist and it became a best-selling book. The book was even made into a popular movie in 1988.

Unfortunately there were people who did not like Dian and the work she was doing.  Many people at the time tried to hunt gorillas and kill them, since they could get a lot of money for the gorillas bodies and parts.  Dian spoke out against these hunters or “poachers” and because of this many of these hunters did not like her.  They did not want her message of protecting the gorillas to be spread. 

Sadly, on December 26, 1985, Fossey was found dead at her Rwandan forest camp. She had been killed by poachers.  However, no one was ever caught or put in in jail for what happened.

Dian’s work with gorillas continues through an international research fund called the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.  The Fund continues to operate and has expanded to other areas of Africa.  The Fund’s goal is to protect mountain gorillas and other endangered species in the gorillas’ habitats.

Dian Fossey is considered the leading researcher on the behavior of mountain gorillas.  She worked hard throughout her life to try to protect these animals from extinction and from hunters and poachers who wanted to kill them.  Dian’s love of the gorillas helped her to see them as highly intelligent individual animals.  And her passion for helping to save them made the gorillas lives better. 

From Dian, we can learn about the power of an individual to make a difference in the lives of other beings, including animals.  Sometimes one person’s interests and efforts can help save an entire species of animal.  She showed bravery in travelling to Africa and facing the dangers of the jungles and poachers who disagreed with her.  And her strength and bravery continue to inspire others. 

Is there a type of animal that you love?  Are there ways that you can learn more about these animals? Are there ways that you can get involved in caring for them?  Like Dian, you can make a difference in the lives of animals that you love.

The History of Steve Irwin: Crocodile Hunter for Kids

Close your eyes and imagine you are riding down a river in a boat. The river is surrounded by swamp land. You hear bugs chirping in the trees and fish darting through the water below you. You are driving slowly, cautiously, watching the surface of the water for one of the largest, most ancient reptiles which rules these rivers — the infamous crocodile. At the front of the boat is the man known as The Crocodile Hunter. Behind him is a cameraman, who is filming the adventure. The Crocodile Hunter holds up his finger and you slow the boat’s engines. He points to the left and you look out across the river. Poking out of the water are two huge eyeballs and a long bumpy snout. Suddenly, The Crocodile Hunter dives out of the canoe and into the murky water. The cameraman films The Crocodile Hunter as he swims toward the crocodile and grabs it around the neck. You row closer as the cameraman continues filming. The Crocodile Hunter bursts from the surface of the river with the crocodile’s jaws trapped shut. Others in the boat help pull the crocodile onto the boat. The Hunter climbs into the boat and shouts into the camera “Crickey, we got one!” You have been witness to an amazing capture by the one and only Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin.

Steve Irwin was born in February 22, 1962 in Essendon, Australia. Coincidentally, he was born on his mother’s birthday! Steve’s father, Bob, was a herpetologist. A herpetologist is someone who studies reptiles. Steve’s mother, Lyn, was a wildlife rehabilitator. A wildlife rehabilitator is someone who helps animals until they are able to survive in the wild again.     

When Steve was 8 his family moved to Queensland, Australia, and his parents started the Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park, sort of like a zoo for reptiles. At the park Steve grew up around lots of reptiles and crocodiles. From a young age, Steve’s job was to help at the park, from cleaning to helping take care of the animals. Like his parents, Steve loved learning more about animals and taking care of them. On Steve’s 6th birthday his parents bought him a 12-foot python!

When Steve was 9, his father took him on a trip to the river to look for a crocodile they could capture and bring back to their park. Steve was so excited to track down his first crocodile. When they saw the crocodile, Steve jumped out of the boat and tried to grab onto it! With the help of his father, they wrestled the crocodile into the boat and took it back to their zoo. There they fed and took care of it. Many of the crocodiles they brought back to their zoo were ones who were causing trouble in neighborhoods or needed to be nursed back to health.

Steve was very adventurous. Often he’d wander off into the woods, climb trees, hunt down reptiles on his own and bring them back to his parents’ park. As he got older, Steve spent a lot of time relocating crocodiles. Crocodiles were relocated, because people were worried about them being near their homes. Over the years, Steve captured and relocated over 100 crocodiles! He became an expert at working with crocodiles and was known all over the world for his skills.

When Steve got older, he became the new owner of his parents park and renamed it the Australia Zoo. Many people loved visiting the zoo because of Steve’s personality. He loved being around animals and sharing his experiences with others. Steve was very funny and did wild things like dive into the water with crocodiles. In 1991, an American woman named Terri Raines was visiting the Australia Zoo. She saw Steve interacting with the animals and thought he was so funny and passionate about what he did. Steve saw Terri in the crowd and said he fell in love with her at first sight. Four months later were engaged and later got married. They had two children, a girl named Bindi, and a boy named Bob.

Terri followed Steve on his adventures and with the help of a cameraman began filming him in the wild as he wrestled and captured crocodiles. With the first videos they created a show called The Crocodile Hunter. Eventually, the show became very popular in over 130 different countries and reached over 500 million people. Steve work a tan shirt and shorts, spoke in an Australian accent, was exciting and said funny things like “Crikey!”

Steve did a few other shows about dangerous animals, but more than anything he loved to show people all of the interesting animals all across the world, so they would come to care about them like he did. He used his money to buy large areas of land to make sure the species that lived there would be safe. He once said of himself “”I consider myself a wildlife warrior. My mission is to save the world’s endangered species.” He donated much of the money he earned to helping save endangered species. An endangered species is an animal that is close to becoming extinct, which means they are all entirely gone. He also spoke out against poaching, which is killing animals illegally and killing animals that are endangered. 

Steve loved his two children and often brought them along on his adventures. He also started filming a show featuring his daughter, Bindi, called Bindi the Jungle Girl. 

Sadly, when Steve was on one of his adventures, snorkeling and filming ocean wildlife, he was stung by a stingray and passed away. Many were shocked and sad to hear about what happened to Steve. He was a great inspiration to everyone who watched him. He taught others to care about wild species and what could be done to help save them.

Over the years, Steve was given many awards for his achievements over the years. His wife, Terri, and children have continued to run the Australia Zoo and many will remember Steve for his big heart and contagious smile. 

Like Steve, you can find something you are passionate about and do all you can to learn more about it and become better at it. Steve became an expert with crocodiles due to lots and lots of practice. Some skills are learned in books, but many skills are learned by doing. Think about something you are interested in and take the time to consider how you can make a plan to improve that skill. 

Like Steve, you care share what you are passionate about with others. As you do this, you can inspire others. This may mean sharing something you drew or something new you learned. Steve also cared deeply about those around him like his wife and children. Think about what you can do to show those around you that you care about them. 

Finally, take the time to think about the amazing world around you, all of the animals in it, and what you can do to keep it a safe place for them. After all is said and done, we share the world with them and need to make it liveable for them as well.