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Bob Campbell Papers

Identifier: MSS 0345

Scope and Content

The bulk of the collection (1948-2011) is Bob Campbell's professional photographic work with African wildlife species as the primary subjects, most notably Dian Fossey's research with mountain gorillas and (later) African orchids. Another important focus is on the Leakey's excavation of prehistoric hominin fossils at various sites. Campbell documented Richard Leakey's projects throughout his career, including his campaign against the illegal trade in ivory as head of Kenya's Wildlife Conservation and Management Department (later, the Kenya Wildlife Service). Most numerous are images of East African wildlife, including large game species, predators, primates, birds, reptiles, and insects. Evidence documenting his creative process, such as field notes and editorial correspondence evaluating film for publication, may be of particular research interest. Included are incomplete typescript chapter drafts for his 2000 book, The Taming of the Gorillas (with unpublished autobiographical chapter drafts) and a documentary screenplay typescript on mountain gorillas. Audio recordings and silent motion picture film offer additional perspectives, with many fragments or unedited B-rolls, but also several high quality examples of this aspect of his creative work. Some personal materials (historical and contemporary photographs of his family, friends, colleagues, pets, homes, as well as passports, logbooks, daybooks, and expense records) are also included. These may help researchers to associate photographs, film and audio recordings with specific projects, dates, and locations.


  • 1948-2011
  • Majority of material found within 1965-1995



This collection is open for research.

Biographical/Historical Note

Born on October 29, 1930 in England, Bob Campbell was raised in Kenya. He attended primary school in Nairobi and public school in Surrey. After working several jobs, he joined the army in 1952, serving in the Kings African Rifles until 1955. Following military service, he worked as an auto mechanic and partnered in an independent garage. Through his future wife Heather, a veterinarian, Campbell met Emmy Award-winning wildlife filmmaker Des Bartlett, who offered him his first photography-related work. Bob processed film for Bartlett's Operation Noah, a documentary on the Kariba Dam wildlife rescue project. In 1963, he joined Armand Denis Productions and became friends with Richard Leakey on a paleoanthropology filming expedition for ABC-TV in 1964. Bob and Heather equipped the entire safari in eleven days. Campbell began freelancing as a camera operator that year, working with filmmaker Alan Root on Leakey's projects for National Geographic in 1967 and 1969.

Through his friendship and project work with Richard Leakey, Campbell was asked to watch over Fossey's research camp at Karisoke during her two-month absence in 1968. He filmed gorillas on his own, but soon began working for National Geographic, which in January 1970 published his work as a cover story. He is best known for his then-unique success in encouraging and filming Fossey's historic first close peaceful interactions with gorillas in the field, continuing to film such encounters over the three-and-a-half years they collaborated. His final film with gorillas was shot in 1972, when he met Aubrey Buxton, founder of one of television's longest running and most successful nature documentary series, Survival. Campbell began work for Survival in 1973, filming many documentaries over the following 17 years. After Fossey's 1985 murder, Bob shot production stills for Gorillas in the Mist. Uncomfortable with the Academy Award-nominated film's dramatic embellishments, Bob authored his own account, The Taming of the Gorillas (published in 2000). He retired from Survival shortly thereafter. Campbell died on June 14, 2014 in Nairobi.


11.15 Linear feet (19 boxes (including approximately 15,050 slides))

Language of Materials



Bob Campbell is best known for his success encouraging and filming the first peaceful close encounters between a human and mountain gorillas, as part of Dian Fossey's conservation and primatology field research at the Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda, Central Africa. The bulk of the collection is Bob Campbell's professional photographic work, primarily on the subjects of African wildlife and orchids, with an emphasis on East African species.


This collection is arranged into two series: "Series I. Audio and visual media" and "Series 2. Professional and personal papers." Each series is further divided into subseries, based on format, following the original arrangement.

Physical Location

University of Florida Smathers Library Building

Acquisition Information

The collection was donated by Heather Campbell in February 2015.

Alternative formats

Digital reproductions of selected audio, video, and photographic images in the Bob Campbell Papers are available online via the University of Florida Digital Collections (UFDC). Please read the Permissions for Use statement for information on copyright, fair use, and use of UFDC digital objects.

Related Material

Bob's autobiographical account of his work with Dian Fossey, his oral history with Wild Film History, and the National Geographic documentary all provide insight into his life and work:

  1. Campbell, Bob. The Taming of the Gorillas. London: Minerva, 2000.
  2. National Geographic Television and Film. The Lost Film of Dian Fossey. New York, N.Y.: Films Media Group, 2010.
  3. Hartley, Jean. "Robert Ian Martin Campbell". WildFilmHistory. Bristol (UK): Wildscreen, 2008.

Processing Notes

Access to audio recordings and 16 mm silent motion picture films is provided through digitized files at UFDC. Campbell's labels for slide folders (or trays) and tabs within trays are used, with some added or modified for clarity, consistency, or to reflect current terminology. Based on their apparent priority selection and use by Campbell for presentations, all 35 mm slides housed in transparent binder sheets were also digitized, along with the slides labeled "Gorilla lecture, 1967-1974." These originals are rehoused in binder sheets.

Items returned to the family include personal correspondence of Ronald J. Campbell (Bob's father) from his Royal Artillery service in India and Europe, immediately before and during World War I. The donation included several Kenyan serial titles, several of which will be cataloged (e.g., Women in Kenya). Newspaper clipping files were discarded.

A Guide to the Bob Campbell Papers
Finding aid created by Dan Reboussin and Janna Royal
July 2016
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared Using Dacs
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida Repository

George A. Smathers Libraries
PO Box 117005
Gainesville Florida 32611-7005 United States of America