Zoo Supports Organization that Protects Only Thriving Ape Species

Founded on the ground-breaking research of one woman in 1967, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGFI) celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Dian Fossey gained worldwide recognition for her work to protect and study mountain gorillas in Rwanda, Africa, before her untimely death. Her book, “Gorillas in the Mist,” published in 1983 gives an account of her years in the rainforest with the mountain gorillas and underscores the need for concerted conservation efforts. A movie of the same name won critical acclaim.

DFGFI is one of the Zoo’s legacy conservation partners and receives significant annual financial support from the Zoo. DFGFI is the world’s longest-running gorilla conservation program and provides daily protection for 50 percent of Rwanda’s mountain gorillas. As a result, this protected population has doubled in size in the last 30 years and is the only wild ape species whose numbers are known to be increasing. The Zoo has been supporting DFGFI since 2011 with annual donations provided by the Oklahoma Zoological Society (OZS). Most of these funds are generated from Zoo membership sales. So, thank you to our members! You are helping protect critically endangered mountain gorillas and Grauer’s gorillas. You are also helping Rwandan students, teachers and scientists receive training and education, which empowers them to become conservation leaders and advocates.

Zoo funds are also used to support day-to-day operations of the Karisoke research center in Rwanda. This support includes paying salaries for Karisoke staff members who conduct daily anti-poaching patrols. During these patrols, they locate the gorillas, remove snares from the gorillas’ habitat, prevent other illegal activity in the forest (e.g., livestock encroachment, wood cutting), identify and report gorilla health issues, and collect data for ongoing research.  The monitored mountain gorillas have been expanding their range for the last six years, which means that Karisoke staff have also expanded the area that they cover by 20 percent to continue to protect and monitor the gorillas. DFGFI also protects and studies critically endangered Grauer’s gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Approximately 150 Grauer’s gorillas now receive protection from daily patrols in Nkuba Conservation area in Congo.

Founded on science, DFGFI continues to make science central to its mission. Staff members collect 20,000 hours of data annually for studies of gorilla behavior, ecology and conservation. As a result, DFGFI maintains one of the largest databases of information on any animal. Data collected at Karisoke has contributed to nearly 300 scientific publications on gorillas and the surrounding region. DFGFI also helps people. Communities adjacent to the forest receive health and education services. These health programs focus on clean water, intestinal parasite treatment and prevention, medical staff training, and building infrastructure.

You can help the Zoo support DFGFI by becoming a Zoo member or by bringing your old cell phones to the Zoo. The phones are collected in the Zoo’s Guest Services office in the Global Plaza. The phones are then sent to ECO-CELL, a company that recycles or refurbishes and resells the phones. This recycling helps gorillas in two ways:

1) It reduces the demand for coltan, an ore used to coat cell phone components. This ore is mined in gorilla habitat, which destroys habitat and also puts miners and wildlife in close proximity often resulting in illegal hunting;

2) A portion of the money that ECO-CELL earns is returned to the Zoo, which is then donated to DFGFI.

--Dr. Rebecca Snyder, Zoo curator of conservation and science

Photo: Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International

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