Going ape over 100 years

Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the discovery of the mountain gorilla

provided by WildlifeWins


he seventeenth of October 2002 marked the 100th anniversary of the scientific discovery of the mountain gorilla. In honor of the occasion, an international coalition of organizations including Fauna&Flora International (FFI), the International Gorilla Conservation Programme, the Ugandan Wildlife Authority (UWA), Ogilvy & Mather Interactive (South Africa) and WildlifeWins.com, has partnered to get the world involved in saving the critically endangered species from extinction. The initiative includes a ground breaking interactive email campaign, a contest to win a five-star gorilla trekking safari, and the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to name the next mountain gorilla born in Uganda. Sponsoring organizations hope the initiative will raise $500,000 for mountain gorilla conservation efforts. The campaign is being hosted by www.wildlifewins.com, and UK-based Fauna&Flora International is matching dollar-for-dollar on the first $200,000 donated.

    Found only in the lushly forested corner of the world where Uganda meets Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), mountain gorillas were first identified as an independent subspecies in the greater gorilla family in 1902. One of mankind's closest genetic relatives, the animal shares more than 97% of our DNA and represents the best and worst of our relationship with the natural world. Whether revered as a subject of devotion by personalities like Charles Akeley and Dian Fossey, as a crowd pleaser by Hollywood and publishing houses, or as a novelty by collectors of gruesome ashtrays crafted from dismembered hands, no other species has sparked as much love, or morbid curiosity, in the annals of human history.

In the nick of time?


    Today, with a total population of 674 individuals, the mountain gorilla is one of the most critically endangered species on the planet. Significantly, while results from the latest census in Uganda indicate that numbers are growing, conservationists are far from confident that potential extinction has been averted. Indeed, a number of risks remain – habitat destruction, poaching and human-borne diseases stand ready to reverse progress made over the last quarter of a century in the blink of an eye.

    Says Steve Quantrill, CEO of Wildlife Wins.com, “Threats to the survival of the mountain gorilla are serious but not insurmountable. If we do what is required today, future generations will be able to enjoy getting to know this species as we have. If we don't, the mountain gorilla will, in all likelihood, disappear within our lifetime. Such an outcome would be tragic in the extreme because it is entirely preventable.”

    Mark Rose, Executive Director of FFI, agrees and goes on to state that one of the most pressing needs in mountain gorilla conservation today is the purchase of a 12-kilometre strip of land along the outside border of Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Bwindi is home to half of the world's mountain gorilla population, including a group known as “Nkuringo.”

    “The Bwindi region has experienced a significant human population explosion over the past two decades and subsistence farming activities have been brought literally to the edge of the Park. The situation is problematic because the crops, especially the bananas, encourage the gorillas to forage outside the Park and this, in turn, exposes them to a variety of threats including human-borne illnesses such as influenza and tuberculosis.

    “Because a mountain gorilla's genetic make-up is so similar to our own, it is susceptible to our diseases but has no capacity to fight infection. This means that a single cold or 'flu germ picked up by one of the Nkuringos could kill all 18 members of the group.”

Salvation... for a price


    Authorities believe that because mountain gorillas are known to dislike open spaces, generally going long distances to get around them instead of just crossing through, the answer to the Nkuringo problem lies in replacing the crops at the edge of the forest with a grassy buffer zone.

    “The solution to the problem is very achievable,” says Quantrill, “but it carries a price tag of $500,000. Not much when compared to figures like the annual gross income of McDonalds ($14billion in 2000) but significant in Ugandan terms all the same. Until it is raised, this project will not become a reality and the gorillas living in Bwindi will remain in serious jeopardy.”

    To demonstrate how far even the smallest contribution can stretch when it comes to saving the species, WildlifeWins and Ogilvy & Mather Interactive (South Africa) have developed a first-of-a-kind animated email campaign that makes a game out of conservation. For the player, the adventure begins with a trip to the year 2010, a time when the mountain gorilla has become extinct. Taking less than one minute to play, the task is to use 10 US $1 bills to turn a natural history museum housing mountain gorilla artifacts into a thriving jungle habitat.

    “Ogilvy has broken new ground with this piece and the final product is beautiful and inspiring,” says Quantrill. “If given by enough people, $10 really is all it takes to ensure a safer future for this gentle animal.”

    Individuals around the world are also being encouraged to visit a special celebratory web site to learn more about the species, the centenary celebration and the Nkuringo project. The first $200,000 contributed through the site will be matched dollar-for-dollar by FFI. Also on offer is a free contest offering a grand prize of naming the next mountain gorilla born in Uganda and a luxury gorilla trekking safari. Travel and accommodation for the safari are being provided by WildlifeWins and The Far Horizon and Sanctuary Lodges. The once-in-a-lifetime baby naming opportunity, never before offered for a species living in the wild, is courtesy of the UWA.

    The gorilla centenary celebration will run from 17 October through 30 November. More information is available at www.wildlifewins.com.

The players


    Launched in September 2001, Wildlife Wins takes conservation fundraising into the commercial arena for the benefit of endangered species around the world. The ultimate goal is to transform the traditionally heavy issue of conservation into something mainstream, stylish and potentially very rewarding for everyday people. Projects supported by WildlifeWins are chosen by a panel that includes representatives from the world's leading conservation organizations including Fauna & Flora International.

 Fauna & Flora International

    Founded in 1903, Fauna & Flora International (FFI) is the world's longest-established international conservation body and one of only a few whose mission is to protect the entire spectrum of endangered species of animals and plants worldwide. FFI conserves threatened species and ecosystems worldwide, choosing solutions that are sustainable, based on sound science and take account of human needs. Resourceful and innovative, FFI remains at the forefront of developing new techniques and adapting to changing circumstances. www.faunaflora.org.

 Uganda Wildlife Authority

    The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) was established in August 1996 by the Uganda Wildlife Statute, which merged the Uganda National Parks and the Game Department. It is governed by a Board of Trustees appointed by minister responsible for wildlife and in charge of management of 10 national parks, 10 wildlife reserves, 7 wildlife sanctuaries and provides guidance for 13 community wildlife areas. The UWA's mission is to conserve and sustainably manage the wildlife and Protected Areas of Uganda in partnership with neighboring communities and stakeholders for the benefit of the people of Uganda and the global community. www.uwa.org

 International Gorilla Conservation Programme

    In 1991, the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) was established to ensure the long-term survival of mountain gorillas and their Afromontane forest habitat. IGCP works with the only two populations of mountain gorilla in the world and extends to the three protected area authorities of the range states – the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN), Office Rwandais de Tourisme et des Parcs Nationaux (ORTPN) and the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). These partners work with three international conservation organizations, the African Wildlife Foundation, Fauna & Flora International and WWF.

 Sanctuary Lodges & The Far Horizon

    Sanctuary Lodge's Gorilla Forest Camp is a permanent luxury tented camp nestled in the mist-swathed rainforests of a mountainside in the heart of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The exclusive location – the sole property within the park's boundaries – afford Gorilla Forest Camp the status of being the ideal base for gorilla tracking, primate viewing and birding excursions in the park.

    Founded in 1998, The Far Horizon runs trips that combine the ultimate in adventure, comfort and safety. Specially designed tours allow clients to take advantage of any opportunity to go off the beaten track and to be exposed to aspects of Uganda that other tourists can only dream of accessing.