La Palmyre Zoo strengthens its support to gorilla conservation

Among the charismatic animals of the zoo, the gorilla has without any doubt a singular status. But its impressive physical qualities and sometimes spectacular displays don’t reveal its true nature. Actually gorillas have a peaceful personality that seduces those who take time to observe them.
Exhibited at the zoo since the mid-70’s, the species has acquired a special position. At first with the founder Claude Caillé who has long maintained a strong relationship with his gorillas and used to visiting them inside their enclosure. Then on large posters where Mike’s portrait has long been featured, coinciding with the opening of the Ape Space in 2009.
The zoo has thus quite naturally supported gorilla in situ conservation by funding preservation programs in their geographical range throughout Africa. Recently, it became one of the few institutions to fund the protection of the 4 recognized sub-species: the western lowland gorilla, the Cross river gorilla, the mountain gorilla and the Grauer gorilla.
Close up on the 4 programs supported by the zoo:
the western lowland gorilla
Since 2013 the zoo has been supporting the Ebo Forest Research Program. It aims to protect a small gorilla population (less than thirty individuals!) and its habitat that is home to a remarkable diversity of species including a dozen of rare primates (chimpanzee, drill, Preuss’s red colobus…). Community outreach and education is the keystone of the “Club des Amis des Gorilles” that develops environment education programs, organizes sport competitions and works with communities to reduce their dependence on hunting and bushmeat trade.

the Cross river gorilla
This is the most threatened subspecies with less than 300 identified individuals. Since 2009 the zoo funds a conservation program developed by the Wildlife Conservation Society in the Mbe mountains located in Nigeria. Ecoguards patrol in the forest to destroy the snares set by poachers and their hunting camps. They also monitor the animals thanks to camera-traps: Cross river gorillas are indeed very elusive and are barely observed as the forest where they live is because of a rough and not easily accessible terrain.

the mountain gorilla
It’s one of the two new programs supported by the zoo. With slightly more than 880 individuals found in 3 countries (DRC, Rwanda and Uganda), this subspecies has been extensively studied for more than 40 years thanks to the pioneer work of the primatologist Dian Fossey. The zoo has chosen to fund mountain gorilla conservation in Virunga National Park, DRC, who had to interrupt conservation activities for several years because of significant insecurity in the region. The situation is much better today but the gorilla tourism is less developed than in the two neighboring countries and generates less incomes. Yet Virunga National Park is the oldest natural park of Africa. It is home to the richest biodiversity of all the African continent and to ¼ of the mountain gorilla global population. 360 rangers are employed: they monitor the animals daily and protect the park from poachers and the incursion of armed militia. More than a hundred of them have already lost their lives in preserving this exceptional heritage. The national park also supports economic and community development by providing briquettes to replace charcoal, creating hydroelectric plants to provide electricity in the villages surrounding the park, building infrastructures, schools and health care facilities…

the Grauer gorilla
This is the second program newly supported by the zoo. A study published in April 2016 showed the dramatic decline of this subspecies: their number is now estimated to be fewer than 3,800 individuals divided in 4 distinct populations in eastern DRC. The zoo supports Kahuzi-Biega National Park that is home to one of the most important population of Grauer gorillas but has been severely impacted by two successive civil wars that have ravaged the country between 1996 and 2003. The funds will help to support gorilla monitoring activities and to develop education trails for tourists within the park.

The four gorilla subspecies are now assessed “critically endangered” by the IUCN. The Grauer gorilla has been the latest to be downgraded to this category as it suffered a collapse of 70% of its global population over the last 20 years.
Long-term preserving all those subspecies requires substantial resources, thus the zoo’s decision to be more involved alongside those who are working daily with gorillas in the wild to ensure the future of this remarkable and endearing animal.
Florence Perroux