With the arrival of our gorillas and a brand new exhibit opening in May 2015, we are committed to ensuring gorillas are protected in the wild. Houston Zoo staff is currently visiting our gorilla conservation partners in Rwanda to see how we can continue to grow our partnerships to ensure mountain gorillas are protected. The Houston Zoo partners with Gorilla Doctors, GRACE, and Conservation Heritage-Turambe, all of which are based in Central Africa near gorilla habitat.
The Houston Zoo is in Rwanda for 3 weeks working with our conservation partners, Gorilla Doctors and Conservation Heritage-Turambe (CHT). In between workdays at CHT’s office, I had the opportunity to visit mountain gorillas in the wild. We gathered at Volcanoes National Park headquarters early in the morning to get our assignment of which habituated gorilla troop we would visit. We soon found out we would see Agashya group, made up of 23 individuals including 1 silverback and 2 babies! Depending on what group you visit and where they’ve moved since the morning, your trek could be 1 hour, 2 hours, 4 hours or maybe even 7 hours! I would have never imagined the length of our trek until…after 15 minutes of walking through agricultural fields, we found Agashya group…and we never even set foot in Volcanoes National Park.
There, just past the potato fields, we saw 23 mountain gorillas, feasting on eucalyptus trees, which are non-native trees often planted here because they provide good timber for making furniture and charcoal. The only trouble is, gorillas seem to love eucalyptus and will come out of the park to eat it, which was exactly what happened that day.
Seeing gorillas in the wild is something indescribable. Their grace, strength, calm nature and beauty are unparalleled. What made the experience even more eye-opening was the proximity in which these wild animals live to humans, and I experienced it firsthand. Because humans are so closely related to apes we can share respiratory illnesses, a cough, the flu, a runny nose-you name it! If we hope to conserve these amazing animals, it is imperative the people living and working alongside gorilla habitat have the resources and knowledge necessary to care for themselves and their families.
This opportunity reinforced the critical work the Zoo’s partners, Gorilla Doctors and Conservation Heritage-Turambe do to keep both humans and gorillas healthy, so that we can both continue to live peacefully alongside one another.
Next up we will hear from one of our partners, Valerie, the Program Director of Conservation Heritage-Turambe. Stay tuned!