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. 

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.