After more than 15 years, the mastermind behind the gruesome and infamous murder of renowned gorilla researcher and protector, Dr. Dian Fossey whose life was portrayed in the 1988 movie "Gorillas in the Mist," may finally be in custody in Belgium. Protais Zigiranyirazo, the former Governor of the Ruhengeri province in Rwanda, brother-in-law of the assassinated Rwandan president, and one of the country's most wanted criminals for his creation of "death squads," which killed 800,000 in 1994, was captured by Belgian police while trying to flee Kenya on June 9, 2001.
Dr. Fossey observed the gorillas for 18 years in the Ruhengeri province when she was brutally murdered in her hut on December 27, 1985. Known for her vigilant pursuit of poachers, Dr. Fossey had made many enemies including Zigiranyirazo, who, it was reported, she was about to announce publicly as being behind poaching and smuggling rings of endangered species and gold in and out of Rwanda. Soon after her murder, Rwandan officials arrested one of her trackers for the murder. He then "apparently" committed suicide while in prison, but diplomats in Kigali believe he was secretly hanged before he could talk. Several months later, Wayne McGuire, her American research assistant, was accused by the Government of her murder but escaped capture when the US embassy warned him, enabling him to leave the country.
For years the FBI was unable to approach its prime suspect, Zigiranyirazo, because of his political connections, but that all changed when he was arrested in Belgium for war crimes.
The saga of Dian Fossey's murder may soon be resolved, but her work for the gorillas she fought so hard to preserve still goes on. The following story, reprinted from the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, is of Beetsme, one of the original gorillas observed by Dr. Fossey over 25 years ago.
"Rwandan field staff employed by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International have recently discovered the body of an older adult male mountain gorilla named Beetsme. Beetsme, the former leader of a group of 25 gorillas, had been missing from his group for several days, as determined by the Fossey Fund trackers, and it was feared that he was either seriously injured or dead. Beetsme was about 36 years old, which is near the normal lifespan limit for an adult male gorilla living in the wild. Although autopsy results are pending, his body showed no obvious signs of injury or illness and it is presumed that he died of natural causes.
"Beetsme was first observed by Dian Fossey in 1975, when he was about 10 years old. Fossey was not sure of his gender at the time, and when asked about it she answered, 'Beats me.' This answer was subsequently transformed into a name for the gorilla-'Beetsme.' Fossey also noted that this gorilla had an 'unusual tolerance of observers.'
"When he reached maturity, Beetsme served as the dominant silverback of his group. As dominant silverback, he helped keep the group together and safe, and fathered a number of offspring. With advancing age, however, Beetsme lost his leadership position to a younger male named Titus, who leads the group today. Beetsme had known Titus for many years and the two formed a strong bond. Even after Titus took over, they worked together to help maintain the integrity of the group. At times, Titus was observed confronting intruding silverbacks, while Beetsme remained behind with the females, keeping them together. Today, this group of gorillas is still called 'Beetsme's Group' by the Fossey Fund staff. It now includes several other young silverbacks and juvenile males."
Dian Fossey's final journal entry read: "When you realize the value of all life, you dwell less on what is past and concentrate on the preservation of the future."
CAPTION: Beetsme, who recently died, was one of the gorillas observed by Dian Fossey in the early years of her great observations and fierce defense of mountain gorillas.