On October 17, 1902, Captain Robert von Beringe (1865–1940) was the first person to discover the Mountain Gorilla.
He shot two large apes during an expedition to establish the boundaries of German East Africa. One of the apes was recovered and sent to the Zoological Museum in Berlin, where Professor Paul Matschie (1861–1926) classified the animal as a new form of gorilla and named it Gorilla Beringei after the man who discovered it. In 1925 Carl Akeley, a hunter from the American Museum of Natural History who wished to study the gorillas, convinced Albert I of Belgium to establish the Albert National Park to protect the animals of the Virunga mountains.
George Schaller began his twenty-month observation of the Mountain Gorillas in 1959, subsequently publishing two books: The Mountain Gorilla and The Year of the Gorilla. Little was known about the life of the Mountain Gorilla before his research, which described its social organization, life history, and ecology.
Following Schaller, Dr. Fossey would begin her 18 year study of the mountain gorillas’ behavior, social interaction and their environment in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. Her studies indicated that the number of mountain gorillas was rapidly declining – much of the decline was due to humans. By the mid-1980s, only 248 known mountain gorillas remained in the world.
Dr. Fossey quickly changed her emphasis from mountain gorilla behavior to preservation. In large part due to human influence within the park, this tiny population was dwindling rapidly due to respiratory illnesses and life-threatening injuries caused by traps and snares. At that time, health care was not available to the mountain gorillas. Fossey made new observations, completed the first accurate census, and established active conservation practices, such as anti-poaching patrols
In 1985, Dr. Fossey met with wildlife enthusiast Ruth Morris Keesling, whose father was Dr. Mark Morris, founder of the Morris Animal Foundation and requested funding for a veterinary program. Ms. Keesling responded with the idea of a veterinary clinic. Sadly, Dr. Fossey’s death followed this request. Fortunately, the promise was kept. The Foundation responded by working with the Rwandan government to create a health-care policy that would protect the mountain gorillas.In 1986, a tiny clinic, The Volcano Veterinary Centre was established by the Morris Animal Foundation. Soon after, the name was changed to the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, also known as the Gorilla Doctors.