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Suggested Answers to Discussion Questions for
Learning Guide to GORILLAS IN THE MIST

1.  [Standard Questions Suitable for Any Film]. [No suggested Answers.]

2.  What did Dian Fossey mean when she said: "Gorillas don't know borders; they don't need passports"? Suggested Response: Gorillas cannot be contained or restricted by political boundaries. They live in biosystems, or biomes, which can range over several countries.

3.  Explain how the study of gorillas will answer Dr. Leakey's quest to "know who I am and what it was that made me." Suggested Response: The great apes are the closest animal relatives to human beings, sharing some 95% of our DNA. Human beings and the great apes branched off from a common ancestor four to seven million years ago. By going back up the evolutionary tree and finding out what we have in common with these animals, we will know more about ourselves.

4.  What does the fact that gorillas don't know borders mean to the efforts of conservationists? Suggested Response: Regional cooperation in preserving habitat and fighting poaching is essential. Wild animal groups cannot usually survive in isolated pockets; the necessity of exchanging genes with other communities of the same species and the ability to adapt to drought or other climactic changes mean that they must be able to range over wide areas. Conservationists stress the importance of wildlife corridors, which allow animals to travel between large areas of suitable habitat. See the reference to the Congo Basin Forest Partnership under Politics of the African Gorilla Habitat.

5.  Would Dian Fossey have been more successful in protecting the mountain gorillas if she had adopted a softer, more cooperative approach? Could she have avoided her own murder? Suggested Response: Possibly. Fossey alienated many people with her furious verbal and sometimes physical assaults. What if she had sought not only to restrain poaching, but to also give the Batwa another way to make a living? Nevertheless, she provided invaluable, detailed information, inspired many with her dedication, and illuminated the plight of the mountain gorilla, whose appealing nature and importance she broadcast to the entire world.

6.  Before he found Fossey, Louis Leakey told people he was looking for a "gorilla girl" to do the type of work he'd secured for Jane Goodall. Was Louis Leakey's belief that women would make better observers of primates than men sexist? Was it accurate? Plug into your discussion the following facts: Some of the other women he had backed earlier didn't work out. His instincts worked well in his choice of the three "trimates." Other dedicated people, both men and women have followed in their footsteps. On the other hand, a woman (her scent, actually) might be less threatening to a silver back, the patriarchal leader of a gorilla family. After all, we share almost all of our DNA with gorillas. Suggested Response: We suggest no right answer. The point is to get the class discussing the issue of what is sexist and what is a legitimate recognition of differences between men and women.

7.  What are the measures that conservationists stress to preserve endangered populations of animals in impoverished areas? Suggested Response: Jobs as park rangers, park guards and guides are the first defense. It must be in the economic interest of the people to save the animals. In addition, economic assistance to develop sustainable farming and developing employment relating to eco tourism industries (jobs in hotels, restaurants, tour companies, travel agencies, etc.) are necessary in areas with any substantial population.

8.  Can burgeoning human populations and wild animals coexist? Suggested Response: The ultimate answer to conservation is population control or a radical change in the way that people live and support themselves.

Social-Emotional Learning


1.  Should humans engage in heroic efforts to save primates and other wild animals from extinction? Suggested Response: Yes, otherwise we are alone in a human crowd and part of nature will be irretrievably lost. The great naturalist Loren Eisley wrote that we are drawn to wild creatures because of the "long loneliness" we have endured since our lives diverged from those of the other animals. Secondly, we will lose the opportunity to study a living link with the human past, the great apes. As a young Congolese traveling with Fossey whispered, awe struck, when he saw his first gorilla, "Surely, Lord, these are our relations." (Watching the Wild Apes, Bettyann Kevles, pg. 153) Finally, there is a moral obligation when extinctions are the result of hunting, harvesting or habitat decimation caused by mankind. The ethical pillar of Respect and various ethical precepts of the world's religions (e.g., God made the environment and all its creatures, mankind cannot kill off a species made by God without offending God) require men to prevent extinctions of animal species whenever possible.

2.  What do you think of singer/songwriter Peter Gabriel's statement, "We forget, most of the time, that humans are Great Apes"? What, if anything, would we lose if they became extinct? Suggested Response: See answer to preceding question.


3.  Some people have commented that Fossey 's life required courage. What was the most courageous thing that she did? Can you think of examples of people that you have known who have had the courage to do this or something like it? Suggested Response: There are several possible correct answers. We lean toward leaving her career, family and friends and to go and live virtually alone in a forest among an alien people, as her most courageous act.


4.  Was Fossey right to psychologically torture a young boy to find out who killed some gorillas? Suggested Response: No. It was not a choice between torturing the child and allowing the gorillas to be massacred. There were other, perhaps more difficult, ways to find the poachers and perhaps, this time, she would have had to let go of her anger and concentrate on preventing the next occasion. Psychologically torturing a child was a violation of human rights.

5.  Fossey had noble aims but used harsh means to achieve them. Did her ends justify her means? Suggested Response: The answer is always that the ends never justify torture, abuse of children, burning homes etc. Fossey exceeded the bounds of morality when she did these things.


6.  Can you explain how Dian Fossey had the highest morality when it came to gorillas but at the same time could take up with a married man and mentally abuse a child, burn homes and the like? Do these facts change your evaluation of her great achievement in saving the mountain gorillas from extinction? Suggested Response: Unfortunately, people are compartmentalized. They can be models of the way people should behave in some ways but not in others. Some people who are moral throughout most of their lives have lapses at times. Fossey's methods diminish the luster of her achievements to some extent, but she didn't kill anyone, she didn't maim anyone, and saving a magnificent species from extinction puts us all in her debt.

See also the discussion question under the Ethical Emphasis Section entitled "Trustworthiness"

Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.


(Be honest; Don't deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable -- do what you say you'll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal -- stand by your family, friends and country)

1.  There is one area of Dian Fossey's life in which she did not live by the Trustworthiness Pillar of character. What was it and what do you think about it? Suggested Response: Taking up with a man she knew to be married is participating in his cheating. One can understand how Dian Fossey, on a mountain alone for long periods of time, would have a strong need for companionship. Her employees were not a consideration for her, and properly so, because as employees they were in a subordinate power relationship. However, the test of morality is restraining yourself from doing something that you want to do (or making yourself do something that you don't want to do) for the sake of a principle that applied universally is beneficial. This is a very difficult choice for many people in situations similar to that of Fossey and her male friend. The need for human contact and warmth is so important. The basic concept of affection is giving of yourself. It is often hard to see that giving of yourself could be wrong. But there were other ways for this couple to deal with the situation, i.e., for the man to be honest with his wife before the relationship progressed, for Fossey to look elsewhere for a sexual relationship, and for the couple to limit their relationship to being friends until the man had squared things with his wife, etc.


(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don't threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults and disagreements)

2.  What is the ethical concept that is the basis for the movements to protect and conserve species of wild animals? Suggested Response: There is no one right answer to this but the one we prefer is "respect." "Caring" and "self-interest" also enter into the equation, but "respect" is the most important concept. Animals that are not magnificent or lovable, for example, the fly, the mosquito, the grub, the earthworm, or the vulture, are still deserving of respect because they are our fellow creatures in nature. Many people have especially fond feelings for our near relatives, the great apes. The grub, the earthworm and the vulture are important to various ecosystems and it is in our self-interest to keep them doing their important work. Caring would lead most people to do more to save the great apes than to save the fly or the ant, but these species are still our fellow creatures in nature. There are, of course, limits and respect should not degenerate into self-destruction, e.g., populations of mosquitos carrying malaria need to be exterminated; flies in a house or restaurant can carry germs and need to be killed or removed.


(Do your share to make your school and community better; Cooperate; Stay informed; vote; Be a good neighbor; Obey laws and rules; Respect authority; Protect the environment)

3.  What does the life of Dian Fossey tell us about the importance of the citizenship Pillar of Character? Suggested Response: Dian Fossey's life is an excellent example of how we are all dependent upon those good people who give to their communities (in this case the world). We all benefit because Dian Fossey saved the mountain gorilla from extinction.

4.  Is it necessary to violate the rights of others in order to change the world? Suggested Response: No. There are thousands of examples of people who have changed the world without violating the rights of others. Gandhi is one example and, in the field of conservation, Jane Goodall is another. Certainly it could be said that these people went to extremes in some ways, but they didn't trespass on the rights of others. It may be that in her situation, trying to deal with agressive poachers, that Dian Fossey had no choice but to violate the rights of the poachers. We don't know the situation well enough to say. But it is important to state that there are successful examples of other approaches being used in other situations.

Last updated December 19, 2007.

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