The importance of dung, to an eventual writing career

Gorilla dung matters. This came to mind today, when I saw the news about a particular gorilla: “Famous Dian Fossey Gorilla Presumed Dead at 38“. 

In ninth grade biology class, I wrote a report about a book about gorillas and about Dian Fossey and other scientists who studied those gorillas.

Being a ninth grader, I was impressed at how dung had played such a central role in Fossey’s work and in the book, so that was a major theme in my book report.

The teacher, who I now realize was probably not the very best teacher, gave me an F (the lowest possible grade — F for failure, or flunk, or whatever) because, she said, I had concocted the facts. The book could not have said what I said it said, she said. When I then brought the book to her, she refused to look at it. 

gorillas-mist
The most famous book about Dian Fossey, one she wrote herself. This is not the book that got me into minor trouble.

(This was a “choose a book, read it, and write a report about it” assignment. I no longer remember the name of the book. Fossey later wrote a book called Gorillas in the Midst, which became very well known and was made into a movie that became even better known.)

I did not realize that, in a way, this foreshadowed my eventual career (writing about things that make people laugh, then think). When I write about something that seems “unbelievable”, I usually include citations or links, so that people can go see for themselves. But some people already know what they think about a thing, before they know anything about it.

Gorilla dung continued, and continues, to inform and fascinate some of the scientists who study gorillas. Here’s one of many gorilla-dung-centric studies. I rather hope it will get some current ninth grade student into trouble:

Using Dung to Estimate Gorilla Density: Modeling Dung Production Rate,” Angelique F. Todd, Hjalmar S. Kuehl, Chloé Cipolletta, and Peter D. Walsh, International Journal of Primatology, vol. 29, 2008, pp. 549-563.