Gorilla

Saving endangered gorillas takes all of us

What do you think they’re talking out?

Lower Wilds of Africa zookeeper, Will Bookwalter, guest-blogs on ZooHoo! 

Gorillas have an otherworldly presence, there is just something incredibly special about them – size, majesty, silence that speaks volumes.

The deep chorus of rumbles through a happy troop breaks the hush of an otherwise ominously quiet setting. I sometimes describe it like the moments before a thunderstorm rolls in – there’s a certain force around you that you can’t quite identify and your stomach sinks with anticipation.

Subira is our incredible silver back over our family troop.

Sharing a moment with them is immensely humbling; just a brief second of eye contact is enough to lock you into their world for life and it’s an honor to be there.

The story of gorillas cannot be told without the story of humans. Our lives are intertwined in both the best and worst of ways, but we have the opportunity to effect change and a movement is taking shape across the globe.

A small part of the force that once destroyed habitats and populations has now pivoted to try and save what’s left, those people hope to protect the global treasures that live within the forests of Africa. Many have now learned that the crack of a rifle in the forest is far less valuable than the shutter of a camera. And in that regard, many former poachers have joined the elite corps of rangers who risk their lives everyday to protect the gorillas we have left.

While these brave men and women keep their boots-on-the-ground, standing across the battlefield from poachers, militias, and warlords, each one of us can have our own positive impact on gorilla populations right here at home. We all have the power to create a better world for gorillas.

Staggering numbers 

There are actually four types of gorillas, two species that each have two subspecies. The gorillas we care for

in AZA-accredited zoos are all Western lowland gorillas. In the wild, their population has dropped to 125,000 individuals; they’re classified by the IUCN as critically endangered. The other three subspecies aren’t as lucky. It’s believed there are only 3,800 Grauer’s gorillas left (our partner GRACE is working to save them); Eastern mountain gorillas are struggling with just 880 individuals remaining; and the Cross River gorillas are barely holding on with as few as 100 animals left.

Amani is an orphaned Guarer’s gorilla, living with our partner, the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE), in the Congo.

But, wait! There’s good news on the horizon. Not only can we help, we ARE helping!

According to our conservation partner, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, mountain gorilla populations in Bwindi National Forest, Uganda, have actually increased from 302 individuals to no less than 400 between 2006 and 2012. Five years after the last census, we’re still trending upwards.

Gorillas don’t have any true natural predators. From time-to-time they may encounter a leopard interested in a youngster, but the silverback will protect the troop with his 500-pound frame and two-in-a-half inch canine teeth. Unfortunately, the remaining threats to gorillas are all human. In a way, that can be viewed as a positive. You can’t explain conservation to a leopard, but human behavior can be changed, and beliefs and opinions can be swayed with new information.

Gorillas are poached for many reasons, for example, bushmeat is an issue we often encounter. People kill and eat lots of endangered animals, gorillas are certainly included. And while their meat is valuable, bio-facts like hands, feet, and skulls can fetch much more on the black market.

The wildlife trade is a problem born purely out of greed and corruption, and we’re watching animals go extinct before our eyes in the name of trophies and pseudo-science. At the lowest levels of these operations, human lives are destroyed, as well, in order to feed and protect families, while war lords and corrupt politicians enjoy the luxuries that come along with exploitation.

With issues like these, simple conversations go a long way in changing minds. Consumers can sometimes be persuaded to stop purchasing items, like rhino horn and elephant ivory. There are a million different ways we can use our purchasing power to protect these precious habitats. Everyday electronics that we use contain minerals, like gold and coltan, mined in the areas where our gorillas live, and the vicious cycle begins there.

The trade of conflict minerals destroys the lives of humans and animals alike, and most of us have no idea the pain, struggle, and loss that goes into the obtaining the components of a new laptop.

We have proven before the power of the consumer, we are rapidly taking steps to convince companies to use sustainably sourced products across the entire spectrum of
manufacturing. As I mentioned above, each one of us truly does have the power to change the world.

On this historic World Gorilla Day, we hope you will join us at the Dallas Zoo, today through Sept. 26, to support our initiatives to raise $10,000 to protect these incredible gentle giants of the forest. Looking into a gorilla’s eyes, we can all see a reflection of ourselves. We share so much with these amazing animals, it’s time we share some of ourselves with our hallowed cousins. Together, we truly can create a better world for gorillas.

BREAKING NEWS: The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is considering rolling back a rule that helps protect wildlife, like critically endangered Grauer’s gorillas, from the effects of illegal mining operations. Tell them NO on conflict mineral amendment in #HR3354. Add your voice HERE. 

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Dallas Zoo partners with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund to foster change in Rwanda

Every morning, more than 100 trackers set out from the Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda to protect nearly half of the nation’s mountain gorilla population. The trackers monitor the gorillas round-the-clock, serving as the first line of defense against poachers. Each individual tracker is assigned a gorilla group; it is their job to locate group members and record data used to study the species. This continued daily commitment is what it takes to ensure the survival of critically endangered mountain gorillas.

Dallas Zoo based Fossey Fund board members at headquarters in Rwanda with Tara Stoinski

The Dallas Zoo and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International are in this battle together, pledging resources, time, and efforts toward gorilla conservation. Established in 1978, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund has dedicated nearly 50 years to protecting mountain gorilla populations. As a result, mountain gorillas are the only species of ape whose numbers are slowly increasing; how ever, with less than 900 individuals remaining, this species is still critically endangered. And at the Dallas Zoo, we’re honored to support the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund as one of our conservation partners.

In January, Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund President and CEO/Chief Science Officer Tara Stoinski spoke during a Dallas Zoo Wild Earth Conservation Lecture held at the Angelika Film Center here in Dallas. In addition, she gave an inspiring talk for Dallas Zoo keepers and staff about the Fund’s latest developments and updates on the animals they protect. But the story doesn’t stop there.

Gregg Hudson, president and CEO of the Dallas Zoo, currently is the immediate past chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, in which he’s been a member since 2007. In celebration of the organization’s 50th anniversary, he and the rest of the board of trustees traveled to Rwanda in late February to meet the partners of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund who are working in the wild. This group also included two of the Fossey Funds newest Trustees – Dallas Zoo board member Diane Brierley and the Zoo’s Special Counsel Bill Evans.

Tara Stoinski speaks to staff at the Dallas Zoo

“It’s amazing to take what we do at zoos, our special talents, and apply them to other meaningful organizations. Zoos are a conduit from our communities to these important, large-scale projects. We have a responsibility to go beyond our gates and be involved in wildlife initiatives outside of the Zoo,” explained Hudson.

Once in the heart of the Virunga Mountains, the trustees embarked on treks through the Rwandan bush to see both gorillas and golden monkeys.

This amazing experience also highlighted the Fund’s numerous health, education, and economic development initiatives, which encourage Africans to become conservation leaders. The trustees visited community education and health projects in Bisate Village and spent a gratifying afternoon with the Karisoke trackers.

Dallas Zoo President and CEO Gregg Hudson hikes through the African bush to see gorillas

“I am just blown away by what the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund does. It’s one of the longest, continuous field projects in the world. On top of that, it’s connected to this incredible community in Rwanda where they have helped build a health clinic and create educational programs at local schools. Gorillas are fascinating animals, but the impact of the Fossey Fund on the community is incredible, too,” Hudson said.

The trip culminated with a reception at the home of U.S. Ambassador to Rwanda Erica J. Barks-Ruggles, an eminent supporter of gorilla conservation, fostering hope for the future of a troubled species.

Hudson’s trip emphasizes the importance of partnerships like those between the Zoo and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund as they bring together conservationists from around the world to collectively further research and prevent species extinction.

“The Rwandan people see gorillas as part of what makes their nation special. I feel a lot of personal pride for helping with each new sustainable, long-term initiative. It’s a rare and fulfilling chance to create a legacy project that will help gorillas in the future,” Hudson stated.

Learn more about how you can support the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund’s conservation efforts by symbolically adopting a gorilla.

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Gorilla groovin’: Promoting play through enrichment

 

Dallas Zoo’s Primate Keeper II Ashley Orr guest blogs for ZooHoo!

You may have seen the original viral video of gorilla Zola dancing in a puddle when he was a youngster living at Calgary Zoo, and his passion for splashin’ has only continued with age! However, there’s a lot more to this behavior than a great ape groovin’ in the water.

Zola is a 14-year-old male Western lowland gorilla, and the youngest member of our bachelor troop. When he isn’t hanging out in the South gorilla habitat, Zola spends his hours inside our roomy gorilla building. The big, blue pool featured in this video is one of many enrichment items the gorilla keepers use to engage primates.

The Association of Zoos & Aquariums defines enrichment as a process to ensure that the behavioral and physical needs of an animal are being met by providing opportunities for species-appropriate actions and choices. Enrichment helps enhance the environment and lives of animals by providing them with mental and physical stimulation to increase natural and healthy behavior. This is an important component in caring for all zoo animals, but primate enrichment is among the most complex and varied.

Enrichment can take many forms; it can be an object such as a ball, a scent like an herb or perfume, visual stimulation such as a mirror, a change in an animal’s company or location, an activity like painting or training, introduction of a new food, or a challenging food presentation… the options are almost limitless! As keepers, we are constantly coming up with new and fresh ways to enrich our animals. And clearly the pool is a favorite for Zola!

Zola’s “dancing” is really just a play behavior (there was no breakdance music playing in the building, we promise). Play is a natural behavior present in a wide array of animals. In fact, the presence of play can signify an animal is content or comfortable, and it is recognized as an indicator for general welfare. It is easy for anyone to appreciate the good time that Zola is having in the pool because we recognize some of the same signs of play that we see in people.

Gorillas in the wild have been observed to willingly enter the water to feed or to cross to other areas. Some gorillas have even been documented using long sticks to probe beneath the water and gauge depth for safe passage (fun fact, gorillas are anatomically too dense to swim). This is an impressive example of great ape intelligence.

Visit Zola and the three other gorillas in our bachelor troop, or the four members of the family troop, to watch them engage with enrichment in their habitats. Proceeds from your visit help purchase enrichment items for our Zoo animals, and also support our conservation partners in the field, like the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE), that help gorillas in the wild.

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Zoo Corps electronics recycling initiative is here to stay

We’ve just wrapped up our second year of Zoo Corps, and I couldn’t be prouder of this year’s group of amazing high schoolers. Our youth-led conservation team meets twice a month throughout the school year and selects an important conservation issue to address. While I provide guidance along the way and connect the team with knowledgeable Zoo staff, these teens do it all – from conducting research to making key decisions.

This year’s group selected deforestation as their issue to tackle. Although a multi-faceted and daunting issue, the teens came up with a creative and effective way to make a positive impact.

During Endangered Species Weekend, Zoo Corps launched a new initiative to help save gorilla habitats and encourage Zoo guests to reforest their own backyards. As you may have read in their earlier blog post, gorillas, chimps, okapi and many other animals who call African rainforests their home are losing this critical habitat. Much of this habitat loss is due to mining coltan, a mineral used to manufacture electronics such as cell phones and tablets. By recycling or extending the life of these devices, you can help reduce the demand for coltan, and ultimately help save gorilla habitat!

While the potential for storms seemed to keep some people away on Saturday, May 20, we had a great turnout on Sunday, May 21, and overall, the weekend was a success! We collected a total of 56 devices, including phones, tablets and MP3 players. Each will be recycled with ECO-CELL, a handheld electronics recycling company founded in 2003.

Though team members were initially concerned about saving habitat in Africa, they also wanted to save wildlife in their own backyards. To help local wildlife, the teens gave out Texas native tree saplings to Zoo guests who brought a device to recycle. They also engaged visitors in conversations about gorillas, giving out saplings to guests who could answer trivia questions about the great apes. In total, Zoo Corps gave out 100 tree saplings from Texas Trees Foundation that were ready for guests to take home and plant in their yards!

In addition to the Zoo Corps cell phone recycling drive, Endangered Species Weekend featured 7 stations around the Zoo where visitors took specific pledges to help protect wildlife. Pledges were simple tasks that anyone can do, but they can make a big difference in small ways! In total, there were 3,200 pledges to save wildlife, with 250 specifically for gorillas.

I could not be more proud of these students who have so much passion and drive to save endangered species, and I look forward to welcoming the 2017-2018 Zoo Corps group who will make their own difference in the world. Applications will be live this August for students who will be in grades 9-12 for the upcoming school year.

If you didn’t make it to Endangered Species Weekend, you can still recycle your small electronics any time you visit the Zoo.

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Teens launch cell phone recycling initiative to save gorillas

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Dallas Zoo’s Zoo Corps youth-led conservation team guest-blogs on ZooHoo! Our group of 14 high school Corps members worked together to select a challenging conservation issue, develop a solution, and put it into action. Here’s their story.

In 2016 alone, nearly 1.5 billion smartphones were purchased around the world. And sadly, the ramifications of producing these small electronic devices is seriously harming wildlife habitat.

Every minute, 150 acres of rain forest is lost to deforestation, depriving animals of their homes and people of crucial resources. One major cause of habitat destruction in central Africa is the mining of the mineral coltan, which is widely used in common compact technology devices, such as cell phones. The plight of critically endangered gorillas, a species already challenged by a variety of issues, is further exacerbated when their habitat is destroyed for unsustainable cell phone production.

The Zoo Corps team is combating this issue by holding a cell phone recycling drive so Dallas Zoo visitors can bring in electronic items to be recycled. By salvaging and reprocessing usable pieces, this drive will play a part in reducing the demand for coltan, which, in turn, will help save gorillas and other forest animals.

Although this issue is daunting, we can help make a difference. During the Zoo’s Endangered Species Weekend, May 20-21, the first 50 Zoo visitors each day will receive a free Texas native tree to plant at home in exchange for an approved recyclable electronic! While supplies last, even those who are unable to bring their used technology may be able receive a tree at no cost by learning about deforestation and answering trivia questions throughout the weekend.

We ask everyone to participate in this exciting event by donating old cell phones and electronics! We’ll work with the conservation-minded company Eco-Cell to make sure your device is recycled.

And if you can’t make it out to Endangered Species Weekend, you can still recycle your small electronics any time you visit the Zoo. In the meantime, consider attending a tree planting session in partnership with the Texas Trees Foundation to help fight deforestation.

Here’s the low-down on how you can recycle your electronics at the Zoo.

What we can accept:Zoo Corps Coltan Infographic-01

  • Cell phones (smart phones and older cell phones)
  • iPods
  • iPads
  • Tablets
  • MP3 players
  • Handheld video games

We do NOT accept:

  • Desktop computers
  • Monitors
  • Laptops
  • Game consoles
  • Calculators

*Note: Apple, Best Buy, Staples, and other retailers will take larger items like these. Call your local store to find out more.

What to do with your device before dropping it off:

  1. Backup your device and save any data you want to keep, such as contacts, photos, or music.
  2. For security purposes, we recommend resetting the device and wiping all data. Specific instructions can be found online for various devices.
  3. Remove the case and/or screen protector.

Where can I drop off my device?

You may drop off your used devices with a staff member at the Membership Services booth, ticket booths, Information Booth. You may also leave them in the drop box at the Jake L. Hamon Gorilla Conservation Research Center at the Dallas Zoo while you’re here visiting our gorillas.

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