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Explore Dian Fossey’s Mountain Gorilla research through the lens of Bob Campbell’s photographs, 1968-1972, with a look at gorillas today.

A Century of Mountain Gorilla Conservation

Mountain Gorillas were named Gorilla gorilla beringei in honor of German army officer Captain Robert von Beringe, who discovered they were a different subspecies than Western Lowland Gorillas in 1902, in the Virunga Mountains of East Africa. Their range includes Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa. By 1922, naturalists recognized the gorillas were threatened by habitat loss, human encroachment and hunting. Gorillas could not survive without the support of conservation intervention.

map showing where gorillas live
Where Gorillas Live
There are four kinds of gorillas, and all are indigenous to Africa, with two types in western Africa and two types in eastern Africa. All are critically endangered except mountain gorillas that have to be classified as endangered. The Fossey Fund works with eastern gorillas (Mountain and Grauer’s) in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

1925

Gorilla looks left over a lake
Photo courtesy of Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International

King Albert I of Belgium created Africa’s first national park to protect gorillas and other species, prohibiting locals from pursuing traditional agricultural and hunting practices that threatened gorillas. But without park rule enforcement, conflicting government policies encouraged hunting and agriculture expansion without concern for the natural environment.

1967 to Today

In 1967, Dian Fossey founded the Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda to study Mountain Gorillas in the wild when only a few hundred remained. Gorillas naturally avoid human contact, but persistent efforts by Fossey and photographer Bob Campbell acclimated some gorilla groups to accept them as members, opening new possibilities for research. This allowed better photographs, enhanced data collection and unprecedented monitoring of gorilla well-being, and led to the wildlife tourism that supports research and conservation today.

woman holding binoculars sits on the ground under a tree
Dian Fossey observing gorillas in the field, 1969. Photo Courtesy of the George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida, from the Bob Campbell Papers, Special & Area Studies Collections. Gift of Heather Campbell.

Fossey is a legend in primate conservation who conducted groundbreaking studies of gorilla behavior. She faced and overcame many obstacles and ultimately gave her life to gorilla protection. Fossey died on December 26, 1985. Her murder has never been solved. Despite many challenges, the project continues as The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, which carries on her legacy to study and protect the lives of wild gorillas today while investing in science, education and people.

2018

In November 2018, Mountain Gorillas were reclassified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature from critically endangered to endangered, one small step further from extinction. An example of one of the world’s most successful conservation stories, in large part due to the work started by Dian Fossey and made famous through the images of Bob Campbell.

Fossey’s Gorilla Research

Acknowledgments

Except where noted, all items are from Bob Campbell Papers, Special & Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida. Gift of Heather Campbell. Photos are printed from digitized color positive slides. Special thanks to Tara Stoinski, Ph.D. and the team at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.