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The Faces of Poaching: Digit the Mountain Gorilla

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by: Danny Clemens
Dian Fossey and Digit
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Dian Fossey and Digit in Rwanda.
Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International

During her time in the mountains of Rwanda, American zoologist Dian Fossey developed a special bond with Digit, a young mountain gorilla named for a damaged finger on his right hand.

Their relationship, however, came to a frightening end on New Year's Eve 1977. As a group of poachers descended upon Digit's group, the fearless creature sacrificed himself for the greater good, sustaining several spear wounds and fighting to the death so that his companions could escape unharmed.

Poachers decapitated Digit and removed his hands -- in some cultures, gorilla hands are valued as collectible ashtrays.

Digit did not, however, die in vain. Fossey and her associates were eventually able to capture six of Digit's killers, three of whom were convicted and imprisoned. To honor the legacy of her beloved friend, Fossey established the Digit Fund (now known as the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International) to fight gorilla poaching.

Tragically, Fossey herself was murdered several years later. Although authorities were never able to determine the motive behind Fossey's killing, many believe that her death was tied to her anti-poaching activism.

Photo courtesy Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International

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