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Ellen Degeneres

Tell us about the Ellen Fund.

For my 60th birthday, Portia [di Rossi] surprised me with the most incredible birthday gift I’ve ever received: A campus with my name on it at The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. The campus is the Ellen Fund’s first project, and it will help continue Dian’s work to protect and study endangered mountain gorillas.

The goal of the Ellen Fund is to work with the local population, gorilla experts, local and world-class architects, technology sponsors and others to create a campus that will support gorilla science, responsible tourism, and the needs of the local population.

What was it like visiting Rwanda for the first time?

First of all, the people were incredible. They’re so welcoming and joyful. If you live in rural Rwanda, you have to grow your own food and haul your own water. It’s challenging, but everyone takes care of each other. I learned about a tradition there called Umuganda, where once a month every Rwandan does service in their community. There’s a strong sense of community and it’s so inspiring.

“Dian Fossey’s work with the mountain gorillas in Africa is one of the things that inspired me to be an animal advocate. Fifty years after she started her work, I’m honored to help carry on her legacy. Together we can help save these beautiful creatures.”

What was the most memorable part of your first visit?

I actually got to sit at Dian’s desk – the exact same one where she worked in her tent in the forest over 50 years ago. I used to have posters of Dian on my wall as a kid, so it was an incredible moment for me. Her original typewriter is still there (Google it, kids), along with the notebooks she used to keep track of her observations.

Tell us about mountain gorillas!

Gorillas are amazing animals. Gorillas and humans share 98 percent of the same DNA, but the thing that’s most amazing about them is how compassionate they are. The sad part is that they’re one of the most endangered animals in the world.

I do know some fun facts about gorillas. They live in families just like humans. Mountain gorillas eat about 60 pounds of food a day, all leafy green plants. It’s as if they sit in a giant salad bowl and eat their way out of it. It makes me want to eat more salad, but it’s hard because pizza is so delicious.

They’re also really good climbers. Gorillas will climb trees to play or harvest fruit. Last week I pulled a back muscle reaching for a lemon that was too high, so that’s one way we’re different.

“I love animals and I want to protect them, especially when they’re endangered. We need these incredible creatures and they need our love and compassion to help save them.”

What advice would you give to young women today?

Do what you want to do and be yourself – that’s my advice for everyone really. Don’t try to be anything or anyone you’re not. And also floss.

What advice do you have for young people looking to make a difference in the world?

Do it! Pick something you’re passionate about and fight for what you believe in. Even if you start small, you can make a difference. I got to meet Greta Thunberg recently, and she’s absolutely incredible. I want to be like her when I grow up.