The name was devised by one of the three ladies, Galdikas, in her 1995 book, Reflections of Eden, based on the fact that she first met Leakey in Los Angeles, California, a suitable place for angels. Prior to Galdikas, the terms ape ladies or ape women (with variants, e.g., gorilla lady, chimpanzee lady, etc.) were in wide use, which, though they began prosaically enough in reference to their occupations, were more susceptible to misuse. The term 'Leakey's Angels' is viewed as being more suitable and is likely to be sustained.
Leakey's interest in primate ethology stemmed from his attempts to recreate the environment in which Proconsul lived in the Rusinga Island region. He saw similarites between this environment and the habitat of the Chimpanzees and Gorillas. He had been trying to find observers since 1946. In 1956, he sent his secretary, Rosalie Osborn, to Mount Muhabura in Uganda to "help habituate" gorillas, but she lasted only four months, and returned to England. Leakey was considering taking the job himself when Goodall providentially brought herself to his attention.
In order to fund Goodall's research at the Gombe Stream Preserve, Leakey created the Tigoni Primate Research Center in 1958. With donations from sources including the National Geographic and the Wilkie Foundation, the Tigoni Research Center helped secure funding for all three angels, in addition to being a facility for conducting research on primates. Tigoni is not far from Nairobi. After Kenya achieved independence the center became the National Primate Research Center. Currently it is the Institute of Primate Research of the National Museums of Kenya, located in Nairobi.
At the time of Leakey's death in 1972, Goodall and Fossey had progressed significantly in their long term field research in Africa, while Galdikas was just getting underway with her field studies in Indonesia. At the time, a fourth female researcher, Toni Jackman, had been selected to study bonobos in Africa, but the necessary financing and permits had not yet been secured.
In 1958, Leakey sent Goodall to London to study primate behavior with Osman Hill and primate anatomy with John Napier. In 1959, Leakey became romantic about Goodall, but she refused him firmly. Neither bore any ill will. The funds were found in that year, and in 1960 Jane went to Gombe with her mother Vanne Morris-Goodall. The presence of Vanne was necessary to satisfy the requirements of David Anstey, chief warden, who was concerned for their safety. He cancelled the permit briefly. Goodall was sent to observe vervet monkeys. The permit was reinstated and the rest is history.
Dian returned home to repay the money. In 1966, Leakey happened to be in Louisville lecturing. Dian went to the lecture, spoke momentarily to Leakey, and to her surprise he remembered her and asked her to stay after the lecture. The next day after an hour's interview at Leakey's hotel, he hired her to observe gorillas, taking up where George Schaller had left off. On January 6, 1967, she arrived at the Virunga Mountains in a land rover with Alan Root and a small party and hiked into the mountains, where she set up camp. Root left. Fossey began to succeed in observation almost from the beginning. She seemed to have an empathy with the gorillas.
Louis interviewed Galdikas the next day at the home of Joan and Arnold Travis, Leakey's base in Southern California during his regular lecture tours on the West coast. Leakey accepted the application and over the next months set up an expedition with the necessary permissions. In 1971, she became the third angel, when she began field studies of Orangutans in the jungles of Borneo.
Called 'Trimates,' three bold women shaped their field. (Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, Birute Baldikes and the study of primates; includes 3 related articles on cell biologist Mary Osborn in Germany, physicist Fumiko Yonezama, geochemist Katsuko Sarhashi of Japan) (Women in Science '93: Gender & Culture) (Cover Story)
Apr 16, 1993; Melissa Remis, a doctoral candidate at Yale University, has just returned from a 3-year study of lowland gorillas in the Central...