American naturalist in East Africa, wife of Carl Ethan Akeley Delia Akeley, née Denning, also known by her nickname, Mickie, grew up in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. At the age of 13, she ran away from home and never saw her parents again. An aspiring naturalist, she worked as an assistant to the naturalist and taxidermist CARL ETHAN AKELEY, first in Milwaukee, then at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. She married him in 1902.
Three years later, in 1905, the Akeleys set out to Kenya for the purpose of collecting specimens and stayed 18 months. On the safaris, Delia participated in the hunt, becoming skillful with a rifle and shooting an elephant now on display at the Field Museum. Returning to Africa in 1909–11, the Akeleys explored the Belgian Congo (present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo), her husband in the employ of the American Museum of Natural History in New York at that time. Because Carl was sick for much of this second visit, Akeley oversaw many of the day-to-day responsibilities.
The couple was divorced in 1923. Akeley continued her career in natural science and returned to Africa in 1924–25, collecting for the Brooklyn Museum of Arts and Sciences. She departed from Lamu, Kenya, on the Indian Ocean, crossed Uganda and the Belgian Congo, then traveled along the CONGO RIVER (Zaire River) to Boma, eventually reaching the Atlantic coast. She journeyed by CANOE as well as camel. In the Belgian Congo, she lived among the peoples of the Ituri Forest and studied their hunting and fishing techniques. She visited Africa again in 1929–30.
Delia Akeley, in 1924–25, became the first known non- African woman to cross Africa coast to coast. Her writings about her African experiences include the book Jungle Por traits (1928). Her study of baboon colonies on her second trip to Africa with Carl Akeley set a precedent among women naturalists of working with primates. She kept a pet monkey late in life.