OracleVoice: Dian Fossey Organization Sends Gorillas to the Cloud

Fifty years ago, Dian Fossey climbed into the remote mountains of Rwanda to study the area’s endangered gorillas. Today, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGFI) is using cutting-edge data collection and study tools to further her work and ensure the survival and revival of the species.

Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund

Urged on by legendary archaeologist Louis Leakey and her own growing interest in the great apes, Fossey began carefully chronicling the gorillas’ behavior—day after day—for years. Her observations eventually made her one of the most influential primatologists in the world—and made her subjects famous as well.

“What she brought to bear on conservation was the sense that you can’t do it for a little while. You have to be there for a sustained length of time. You must be there all day, every day. It needs to be continuous,” says Clare Richardson, president emeritus of the DFGFI. Fossey’s data, and the attention it brought to gorillas, lends them a distinction both encouraging and alarming: It is the only population of great apes in the world that has grown, doubling in size from 240 to 480 individuals during the past five decades.

“When [Dian Fossey] first went to Rwanda, the popular opinion of gorillas was King Kong, a ferocious beast,” says Tara Stoinski, president, CEO, and chief scientific officer for the DFGFI. “By getting to know each of those gorillas individually, by studying their families and seeing how much they are like us, she was able to change the world’s opinion. Their nickname now is ‘gentle giant,’ which is much more appropriate. She was just one person, but she literally changed the course of history for a species.”

Now, with Oracle’s funding and technology, Rwanda’s great apes are not the only ones who can benefit from Fossey’s legacy of data collection and analysis. Scientists researching a wide range of animals around the globe will also be able to more easily collect and manage the data they need.

Long-Term Commitment Pays Off

Oracle’s involvement with the DFGFI began after company founder Larry Ellison saw the 1988 Fossey biopic Gorillas in the Mist and was impressed by her life of dedication and sacrifice. Oracle became one of the first US for-profit companies to take a leadership role in the protection of mountain gorillas and is the fund’s longest-term corporate supporter.

“That’s a very long time for a small conservation NGO to be operating, particularly in a part of the world that has faced a lot of challenges. Three decades of support from Oracle has let us be on the ground, day in and day out, that whole time,” says Stoinski. And that continuous presence has been key to the recovery of a species that was once expected to become extinct before the year 2000.

Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund

According to Colleen Cassity, executive director of Oracle Corporate Citizenship, working with the fund has also provided an opportunity for three branches of Oracle philanthropy to work together: Oracle Giving supports the DFGFI with cash and technology grants; the Oracle Education Foundation uses data sets from the fund to show students how to extract knowledge from data and visualize it; and Oracle Volunteers coach those classes.

“By working with real scientific field data, the students discover what data can tell them about the real world and then find answers to real-world questions. It’s a beautiful synthesis of three different threads of Oracle’s philanthropy, all focused on developing that next generation of conservationists,” says Cassity.