Max Standby

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In 1963, having learnt Swahili and studied primatology, thirty-one-year-old Dian Fossey left her home in Kentucky and travelled to Nairobi, Kenya, to begin studying endangered mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. In 1967 she founded the Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda to further her studies. Fossey’s invaluable work continued until her death in 1985, and in 1988 her story became a Hollywood movie, based on her 1983 memoir, Gorillas in the Mist. Living in a mountain forest for months on end presented problems for Fossey, as evidenced by this amusing letter from Rwanda, in which she announced the death of a battery-powered ‘close friend.’ The letter’s recipient, Robinson McIlvaine, was the President of the African Wildlife Foundation.

January 22nd, 1979

Dear Rob,

I really received some bad news today. A close friend of mine, actually I only really got to know him well on three occasions, died after a lingering illness, as yet not properly diagnosed.

Perhaps you know him, as he was fairly well known in conservation circuits; his name was Max Standby. Apparently he had some kind of electrical pacemaker, and when that started to fail, there was no place in Rwanda to get it fixed, so he just sweated it out until the end.

I do admire the pluck he showed, but I can’t tell you how much I miss him. He was one of those you thought you could always rely on in time of need. I can’t understand why all the good guys have to go first.

As ever,