Simple fact: Great Apes are in trouble. The next few years could determine the fate of some of the smaller populations of apes such as orangutans, chimpanzees and gorillas spread across their range countries. Gorillas are of particular concern these days as they are being lost for human reasons – lost to habitat fragmentation, disease issues, hunted for meat and young taken to sell into the wildlife trade. And while some populations are stabilizing, the Eastern Lowland Gorillas of the Democratic Republic of Congo continue to decline:
–Western Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) contains between 125,000 and 200,000 individuals remaining in the wild in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Gabon, Republic of Congo, and Equatorial Guinea.
–Cross River Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli) only 250-300 individuals remain in Nigeria and Cameroon
–Eastern Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla beringei) may be as low as 5,000 individuals, down from 17,000 in 1995. This population is difficult to monitor due to political instability in their range countries, the Democratic Republic of Congo
–Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) less than 900 individuals remaining in Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo
The Houston Zoo currently partners with two amazing programs in Central Africa you have seen on our websites and social media. The Gorilla Doctors work in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and are literally Doctors who make house calls – for gorillas. With a focus on keeping the worlds remaining Mountain Gorillas healthy across three countries and assisting with confiscating and caring for orphaned Eastern Lowland gorillas when called upon, the Gorilla Doctors are at the front line of protecting these species. You can find out more about what they do at www.gorilladoctors.org. A little further north in the DRC sits a unique sanctuary for orphaned Eastern Lowland gorillas called GRACE – Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education center. A one-of-a-kind facility dedicated to recusing, caring for, and one day releasing these individuals back in the wild. More on this project can be found at www.gracegorillas.org
Working in regions where poverty is high is complicated and each program offers the development of initiatives to help support local communities; from health to education and even some jobs. Today, protecting wildlife could not be successful without programs which empower these communities to participate in a future for gorillas.
Africa has a mystique. It is awe-inspiring, a living place yet dark and formidable. It is full of cultures and heritage, wildlife and wild places. But, Deepest Darkest Africa is in danger. There is a Congolese proverb which says you do not teach the paths of the forest to an old gorilla. But what if those paths are gone forever? How will the gorilla find its way? And worse, what if the old gorillas have gone away, lost to humans? Who will show the young the paths of the forest?
200 years ago, Thomas Jefferson wrote for if one link in nature’s chain might be lost, another might be lost, until the whole of things will vanish by piecemeal. If we have the opportunity to protect and hold dear this chain; wildlife, habitat and human communities, then we must take that opportunity and act while the old gorilla can still teach the young, his forest path.