Dian Fossey is the name we associate with mountain gorillas, but working alongside her and continuing her work to this day was the most active and honored conservationists of modern times.
Ian Redmond was born in Malaysia on April 11, 1954. As a boy, he returned with his mother to the Yorkshire region of England, where he learned to love nature and animals in particular. He completed a university degree in biology in 1976.
Then his life changed. He went to Africa to join the research team studying mountain gorillas. He recalled, “As a newly graduated biologist, it had been my great good fortune to be taken on as Dr. Dian Fossey’s research assistant. The work involved tracking the gorillas each day to make observations on their behaviour and ecology ….” He was also interested in their parasites, a curiosity that earned him the nickname “Worm Boy” (later, he published several papers about parasites of apes and other animals). In 1978, he famously guided David Attenborough who came to Fossey’s research center to film a documentary on mountain gorillas.
Then his life changed again. Later that year, he came upon the body of one of their gorilla subjects, Digit. Digit had been killed by poachers, who cut off his head and hands to sell. Traumatized by the event, Redmond decided to focus on protecting animals more than on studying them. A decade later, that resolve was reinforced when the elephants he was monitoring in Kenya were killed by ivory poachers.
Since then, he has been a tireless advocate for anti-poaching enforcement, conservation and environmental education. He has led field patrols to stop poaching and once went undercover to pose as a gorilla buyer to expose poaching in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has assisted on more than 100 conservation documentary films for the BBC, National Geographic, Discovery and others. He taught Sigourney Weaver to grunt like a gorilla for the film “Gorillas in the Mist.”
In order to help coordinate conservation efforts, he formed the Ape Alliance in 1996, a consortium of 95 primate conservation groups. He has led similar efforts for elephants (the African Ele-Fund) and rhinoceros (the UK Rhino Group). He worked with the UN Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) for a decade and is a regular consultant with the UNEP and FAO on conservation matters. Since 2010, he has been an Ambassador for the UNEP Convention on Migratory Species. In 2006, Queen Elizabeth bestowed the Order of the British Empire on Redmond. His list of major conservation awards is long, including one—The Ian Redmond Award of GRASP—named in his honor.
He is a conservationist who understands the importance of protecting nature at all levels—ecosystems, populations and individual animals. He summarized his philosophy recently in this way:
“I am a naturalist by birth, a biologist by training, and a conservationist by necessity. But conservation for me isn’t just about saving species. On a larger scale, the planet needs us to save functioning eco-systems; on a smaller scale, we must also recognise that species are made up of individual animals. For me, it became personal when I had the privilege of getting to know individual wild animals in the wild… I can truthfully say that some of my best friends are gorillas, and I care passionately about them and the future of all life on Earth.”
Animal Hero Awards. Winners 2017 – Ian Redmond. Available at: http://www.animalheroawards.co.uk/next-generation-award-2017. Accessed April 10, 2018.
Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals. Ian Redmond. Available at: http://www.cms.int/en/page/ian-redmond. Accessed April 10, 2018.
National Georgraphic. Ian Redmond, OBE. Available at: https://blog.nationalgeographic.org/author/iredmond/. Accessed April 10, 2018.
Redmond, Ian. 2016. What happened to the gorillas who met David Attenborough? BBC Earth, 12 May 2016. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/earth/story/20160508-what-happened-to-the-gorillas-who-met-david-attenborough. Accessed April 10, 2018.