Uganda Travel News

Our experience with sandy to that point had been quite limited, but very positive. He had provided helpful advice and encouragement when Amy called in late 1977 to discuss her proposed research. He and Kelly Stewart kindly hosted us for overnight visit at their Cambridge home when we passed through England on our way to Rwanda. And while sandy was generally very serious, Kelly had ariotous sense of humor. She too had been a researcher at Karisoke and had once been very close to Dian. When Kelly and sandy moved in together however she joined him on Dians blacklist. To their credit neither sandy nor Kelly used our initial meeting to make disparaging remarks about Dian, or otherwise seek to influence our opinion of her personality or professional abilities.

The mountain gorilla preservation fund lingered in the remote back ground of our lives for nearly a year. Mean while back in England the fund was gaining energy from the support of people like David Attenborough. A distinguished British naturalist, Attenborough had filmed group 4 just before digits death. His footage of the gorillas and his personal stature combined to mobilize the British people to open their hearts and wallets to the mountain gorilla cause. More than $100,000 was collected in this manner almost entirely from small private donations. It was the most successful campaign ever launched by the fauna and flora preservation society and a very large sum for conservation from any source in those days. Yet the fund was an empty vessel, a campaign with the best of intentions but no real plan of action. It was also a vessel grounded on the shoals of continued resistance by Dian Fossey. Her opposition had paralyzed Rwandan officials who were otherwise all too ready to accept money from any source but fearful of her wrath and condemnation. Other international conservation groups like the world wildlife fund were waiting for signs of Dian’s approbation before they joined the cause.

Faced with five thousand head of cattle on the near horizon and the future of the park in clear danger, we were ready with information and ideas to guide the mountain gorilla preservation fund and put its money to sound use. But first we needed to convince Dian to acknowledge the funds existence enter into some level of discussion and preferably endorse a plan of action. Or at least not oppose the use of this money in Rwanda.

Dian remained contemptuous of sandy Harcourt and dismissive of “his” fund. On rare days when she could move beyond this level of personal enemity another point of fundamental resistance emerged. The mountain gorilla preservation fund had declared its goal of working with Rwandan institutions to improve their ability to manage the Parc des Volcans and protect its gorillas. ORTPN was a certain recipient of support. This was anathema to Dian. She barely acknowledged the government’s sovereignty over the park and dismissed ORTPN a hopelessly corrupt and inept. She was partially correct about ORTPN, though ineptitude was a more fundamental problem than corruption. How the park service could improve its performance without some source of revenue to hire train and equip more guards however, was not clear to us, nor was it a concern of Dian’s. The digit fund sent money directly to her, some of which she used to fund her own private anti-poaching within a fifteen square mile area surrounding the research station but left the great majority of gorillas that lived in the remaining 150 square miles of the Virunga forest without protection. Our recently completed census confirmed that the Karisoke Gorillas were faring comparatively well, but it also confirmed continued declines in the outlying population.

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