Conservation Success Stories: OKC Zoo Provides Training to Mountain Gorilla Researchers

Here at the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden, we believe in the importance of conserving the world’s wildlife and wild places. In 2020, the Zoo raised over $220,000 to benefit local and global conservation efforts as part of its Round Up for Conservation initiative. Through individual guest contributions, Round Up for Conservation funds helped cultivate 10 conservation success stories in 2020. Of those ten, one success story focuses on supporting researchers who protect the world’s endangered mountain gorillas at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFCFI).

From a young age, Dian Fossey was noted by her family to have an interest and passion for animals. That passion turned into a career studying mountain gorillas in different African countries, including Rwanda and the Congo. Over 50 years ago, Dian Fossey founded the Digit Fund, named after a gorilla called “Digit” who was killed by poachers, to raise money for her conservation work and anti-poaching initiatives. The Digit Fund would later be renamed to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.

Since its inception, DFGFI has grown its impact through scientific research and education, as well as by providing daily protection for mountain gorillas and helping local communities by supplying over 100 jobs to Rwandans. The organization has published over 300 scientific papers and continues to inspire individuals worldwide to care about and help conserve mountain gorillas.

After a half a century of monumental conservation accomplishments, DFGFI has thousands of amazing stories to tell, but the organization needed assistance telling their stories in a strategic manner. In 2019, the OKC Zoo offered to assist. Using donations from the Zoo’s Round up for Conservation Fund, the Zoo’s Director of Public Relations, Candice Rennels, traveled to Rwanda with videographer, Travis Tindell. During her time in Rwanda, Rennels provided communication training to the DFGFI staff at the Karisoke Research Center.

As an internationally-recognized conservation organization, DFGFI found great value in communication training. DFGFI staff are interviewed frequently by news organizations, and yet, they had never received communication training. Communication training is an essential tool for any group or individual who must coordinate with the media. This training prepares staff to answer media interview questions comfortably highlight DFGFI’s conservation impact in a compelling, concise manner.

While at DFGFI, Candice and Travis also conducted interviews and gathered footage of the DFGFI team at work. They used this footage to produce five educational videos, explaining the significance of the organization’s conservation initiatives. The videos were completed in 2020 and have proven to be a valuable resource, particularly during the pandemic when travel and in-person meetings are limited. The videos will also be utilized as educational content in DFGFI’s new Ellen DeGeneres campus, which is currently under construction. To see the completed videos, click here.

Since their visit, the Zoo continues to dedicate Round Up for Conservation funding to support DFGFI’s essential research and conservation work for mountain gorillas.

Wildlife and wild places are rapidly disappearing. The Zoo is working to save wildlife in Oklahoma and around the world. It’s our passion, and we need your help. By rounding up for conservation while visiting the Zoo, guests are able to help conserve mountain gorillas in the wild. To learn more, click here.

- Dr. Rebecca Snyder, curator of conservation and science
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