Think you know something about gorillas? You’re probably aware that they live in Africa, are endangered and have a similar genetic makeup to humans. But did you know that there are two different species of gorillas and that each of those have two sub-species? Also, there is a huge difference in the number of surviving members of each of the four sub-species, with perhaps up to 200,000 western lowland gorillas alive today, versus 300 for the cross river western gorilla and 880 for eastern mountain gorillas. The Grauer’s gorillas hover somewhere in the middle with perhaps 5,000 or fewer of them remaining in their native forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
All that is according to the website of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International
, the world’s pre-eminent organization working to save these magnificent great apes from extinction. Indianapolis Zoo president and CEO Mike Crowther serves on the Board of Trustees of the Fund and has had the opportunity himself to witness wild mountain gorillas up close (that's one of his photos above). It is a cause close to his heart and one he hopes to address more fully in the future as the Zoo pursues its long term goal of establishing an international ape center. That process will begin in 2014 when the Zoo’s International Orangutan Center
opens to the public.
In the meantime, there is much to learn about gorillas, how they live, what threats they face, and how concerned humans can help save them.
According to the history section of their website, the Dian Fossey Fund was “established in 1978 as the Digit Fund, with the purpose of preserving and protecting the world's last mountain gorillas. Our focus has never wavered, but we have expanded to address other regional challenges to gorilla protection.
The name “Digit Fund” was in memory of Dr. Fossey's favorite gorilla, and the Fossey Fund was given its current name in 1992 to underscore its commitment to carry on the gorilla protection and research programs established by Dr. Fossey after she founded the Karisoke™ Research Center
in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park in 1967. Karisoke has made gorilla protection history by making it possible for the mountain gorillas of the Virungas to be the only great ape population to have grown in number since the 1960s (news we covered last November in a previous blog entry
). [NOTE: The photo to the left is just one of the haunting images from the Fund's website.]
Since Dian Fossey’s death in 1985, the Fund’s activities have expanded to include protection of Grauer’s (eastern lowland) gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as the mountain gorillas in that country’s Virunga National Park, and other endangered species in the gorillas’ habitats. The fund has also established numerous health and education projects in partnership with local government agencies, nongovernmental organizations and universities and with the communities that share the gorillas’ ecosystems, to create a healthy environment for both people and gorillas and empower Africans to become leaders in conserving their own natural resources. This recognition of the interdependence of people and gorillas and the importance of helping people
marks another milestone in gorilla conservation history.”
“A major advance in gorilla conservation supported by the Fossey Fund began in the late 1990s, when a group of traditional leaders in the Democratic Republic of Congo decided to create a network of gorilla reserves
by donating their ancestral lands. With financial and technical help from the Fund, these reserves are gaining government recognition that grants them legal status equal to the national parks, while allowing the communities to retain the management role. The same communities established the unique Tayna Center for Conservation Biology (TCCB), with help from the Fossey Fund, offering university-level degrees to the next generation of African conservationists.”
Interestingly, Dian Fossey herself had a very close link with Dr. George Schaller
, the 2008 winner of the Indianapolis Prize
. Schaller, who was and is an icon to field researchers, pioneered field observations of mountain gorillas in the 1950s, paving the way for the research done by Dian Fossey that led to the founding of the Digit Fund. Another influential person in her life was legendary wildlife photographer Alan Root, another friend of the Indianapolis Prize who has participated in the Prize Gala celebrations over the last several years as a special guest. He was the one, along with the late Joan Root, who first introduced the young Dian Fossey to wild gorillas. Photo of George Schaller, World Conservation Society
The Indianapolis Zoo's own associate veterinarian, Dr. Jan Ramer, spent over two years in Africa working with the Gorilla Doctors
, who work with the Fossey staff on medical interventions.