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The Heart of the Congo

UF celebrates 50 years of mountain gorilla conservation and the legacy of Dian Fossey

Story by UF College of Liberal Arts and Sciences November 30th, 2017

Among the mist-filled forests lining the volcanic Virunga Mountains in sub-Saharan Africa dwell the elusive mountain gorillas — and there are fewer than 900 left. However, their population has increased from its low point of 254 in 1981, as the decades of work by esteemed primatologist Dian Fossey, her Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda, and her eponymous conservation fund have greatly improved the species’ outlook. Now, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Karisoke Center, 10 UF organizations are co-sponsoring a keynote lecture featuring primatologists Tara Stoinski of the Fossey Fund and David Watts of Yale University.

The talk will take place on Wed. Dec. 6 from 12 to 3 p.m. at Smathers Libraries, where the exhibit “Bob Campbell’s Photographs of Dian Fossey’s Karisoke Research Center, 1968-1972” shows the extent of Fossey’s activism and research, which resulted in the first census of mountain gorillas and a more complete understanding of their rich, complex social lives. Daniel Reboussin, African studies curator, and the late Richard Freeman, anthropology librarian, selected the photographs from a collection of 15,000 original slides taken by wildlife photographer Bob Campbell and donated to the Libraries in 2015 by his widow, Heather Campbell of Nairobi, Kenya.

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The invited speakers will complement the current Smathers exhibit commemorating Karisoke’s anniversary, with details relating to the exhibit photographs, several of which National Geographic magazine featured in cover stories that propelled Dian Fossey to international recognition.

Tara Stoinski has studied gorillas for more than two decades. She leads conservation, protection and research efforts of gorillas in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo and serves as the President and CEO/Chief Scientific Officer of the Fossey Fund. Her efforts and those of her international team have focused on the gorillas and their habitats in addition to active work with local communities and conservation groups to facilitate their protection.

David Watts was director of Karisoke for two years, immediately following the murder of Fossey in December 1985. Watts currently leads research on common chimpanzees and their habitat at Ngogo (Kibale National Park, Uganda) and in 1995, started the Ngogo Chimpanzee Project, which he co-directs with colleagues. His doctoral research and much of his subsequent work focused on mountain gorilla ecology and behavior.

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An online exhibit is available, and about 2,500 images from Campbell’s work with the mountain gorillas are also available online.

Footnote: Photography by Bob Campbell, distributed under Creative Commons License By NC ND