Happy World Gorilla Day! This year we are celebrating the 55th anniversary of Dian Fossey’s research and establishment of the Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda’s Virunga Mountains. Fifty-five years ago, Fossey was one of the first to lead groundbreaking research and observations of mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) that led to current conservation efforts and protected areas of the Virunga Mountains. Over the last several decades, the population of mountain gorillas has increased due to diligent protection and continuing research. The subspecies are now considered endangered, whereas only a few years ago they were critically endangered. Fossey’s work has acted as a catalyst across gorilla species.
Mountain gorillas are not the only species of gorillas. There are a total of four subspecies: Western Lowland Gorillas, Eastern Lowland Gorillas, Cross River Gorillas and Mountain gorillas. The three former are all considered critically endangered. Western Lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) are the species of gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo that are ambassadors to their wild counterparts. Found in the swamps and rainforests of Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and the Central African Republic, there is an estimated population of 100,000 western lowland gorillas.
Some of the biggest threats gorillas face are human encroachment, poaching and zoonotic disease. It has been estimated that about 2,000 gorillas are lost on an annual basis. The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden (CZBG) has been acting over the last two decades to help make a difference in western lowland gorilla research and conservation by supporting the Mbeli Bai Study in the Nouabale-Ndoki National Park, located in the Republic of Congo. Mbeli Bai is the longest running field study of western lowland gorillas that have observed and provided insight on gorilla behaviors and social dynamics.
The Cincinnati Zoo Conservation Impact received a grant from the Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation this year to team up with Club Ebobo, an educational program that is affiliated with the Mbeli Bai Study. Together, Club Ebobo and the Cincinnati Zoo Conservation Impact teams are investigating ways to support community outreach to ultimately keep humans and apes healthy and thriving in the Congo.