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2 Vintage Watches connected with the film Gorillas in the Mist

Dian Fossey's Ground-breaking Gorilla Studies in Rwanda and Her Collaborators

Dian Fossey, the renowned primatologist, dedicated her life to the study and conservation of mountain gorillas in Rwanda. Her pioneering work not only advanced our understanding of these magnificent creatures but also inspired generations of researchers and conservationists. In her quest to unravel the mysteries of gorilla behaviour and ecology, Fossey received invaluable assistance from two individuals: Alexander "Sandy" Harcourt and Kelly Stewart Harcourt.

Vintage Heuer & Breitling Stopwatches used by Sandy & Kelly Stewart Harcourt in Rwanda in the 1970's.

Dian Fossey's Early Years in Rwanda

In 1967, Fossey arrived at the Virunga Mountains, a volcanic region straddling Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Her initial task was to habituate the gorillas to human presence, a process that required immense patience and perseverance. By mimicking their feeding sounds and crawling on her hands and knees, Fossey gradually gained the trust of these gentle giants. By 1972, with the help of students like Sandy Harcourt, Fossey had successfully habituated three study groups, including the famous Groups 4 and 5. This remarkable achievement paved the way for unprecedented insights into the lives of individual gorillas, whose fortunes would be tracked for decades to come.

Sandy Harcourt with Dian Fossey in Rwanda / The book about Dian Fossey that was the basis for Gorillas in the Mist / The Heuer and Breitling watches used by Sandy and his wife Kelly Stewart in Rwanda.

Sandy Harcourt's Contributions

Alexander "Sandy" Harcourt, a British-born American primatologist, played a pivotal role in Fossey's ground-breaking work. In 1971, as a university student, Harcourt spent the summer in the Virunga National Park, conducting a census of the gorilla population.1 This initial experience ignited his passion for gorilla research, and he later returned to the region to pursue his PhD fieldwork under Fossey's guidance. Harcourt's meticulous observations and data collection contributed significantly to our understanding of gorilla social dynamics, behaviour, and ecology. His expertise and dedication were instrumental in the success of Fossey's long-term study.

Kelly Stewart Harcourt's Invaluable Partnership

Kelly Stewart Harcourt, Sandy's wife and fellow primatologist, was another key figure in Fossey's research endeavours. After a stint as Fossey's field assistant in Rwanda, Kelly joined forces with her husband to continue the ground-breaking work at Karisoke Research Centre, Fossey's base of operations. Together, Sandy and Kelly Harcourt co-authored the seminal book "Gorilla Society: Conflict, Compromise, and Cooperation Between the Sexes," which synthesized decades of research on wild gorillas from various habitats across Africa. Their comprehensive analysis shed light on the intricate social systems and evolutionary strategies of these remarkable primates.

Sandy and Kelly Stewart Harcourt's seminal book on Gorillas. Kelly & Sandy Wedding photo with Kelly's Father.

Fossey's Legacy and Ongoing Conservation Efforts

Dian Fossey's unwavering dedication to the mountain gorillas came at a great personal cost. Tragically, she was murdered in 1985, likely due to her relentless efforts to combat poaching and habitat destruction in the region. However, her legacy lives on through the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGFI), established to ensure the continuation of her work at Karisoke.

Today, researchers continue to observe the descendants of the gorillas that Fossey first encountered, carrying on her mission to protect and understand these magnificent creatures. The contributions of Sandy and Kelly Harcourt, along with countless other dedicated individuals, have been instrumental in advancing our knowledge and ensuring the survival of mountain gorillas in the face of ongoing threats.

Dian Fossey's ground-breaking studies in Rwanda, aided by the invaluable support of Sandy Harcourt and Kelly Stewart Harcourt, have left an indelible mark on the field of primatology and conservation. Their tireless efforts have not only enriched our understanding of gorilla behaviour and ecology but have also inspired generations of researchers and activists to continue the fight for the preservation of these remarkable animals and their habitats.


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