Protecting Gorillas in the MidstBy Aaron Lazenby
Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International works to preserve a threatened gorilla population.
In September 1967, anthropologist Dian Fossey began construction on her jungle camp in Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park. Her mission was to study the ecology, demography, and social organization of the region's mountain gorillas. Despite accomplishing some of the most amazing and well-known work in primatology, the Gorillas in the Mist author was found twenty years later, murdered in her cabin in that very same camp.
Fossey's work, as well as the conservation fund she established, struggled in the years following her death. But the film version of Gorillas in the Mist brought her work and tragedy to a new audience—an audience that included Oracle CEO Larry Ellison. Inspired by the anthropologist's story, Ellison made significant contributions that helped stabilize the newly renamed Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGFI) and preserve the work of its namesake.
"I think to have him come along and almost immediately provide support, with specific interest in antipoaching efforts, brought a level of stability at a time when we really needed it," says Clare Richardson, CEO of DFGFI. "We feel very lucky that someone like him in a decision-making capacity decided that he wanted to get involved."
Today, DFGFI oversees three groups totalling more than 100 gorillas in the mountainous region along the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. More than 220 staff members work on a number of initiatives with the goal of studying gorilla behavior, monitoring their movement throughout the region, and reducing any threats the animals may encounter. These threats include snares set by local hunters to capture other animals for food, poachers who hunt gorillas for profit, and animal traffickers looking to illegally capture and sell young gorillas to wealthy buyers.
The best way to counteract these threats is to bring trained and committed antipoaching staff to the jungle, an effort Oracle supported with a grant in 2006. "We wanted to do a couple of things with the money Oracle gave us," says Richardson. "But the foremost are the protection programs on both sides of the border. We know that even though this is a critically small population of gorillas, it is also one of the few gorilla populations that is increasing. This is due to the daily presence of antipoaching efforts in the forest."
DFGFI's work doesn't end there. Over the years, the organization has expanded its charter beyond gorilla preservation to include critical programs that promote education, good health, and poverty reduction among the region's human population. Richardson says that by reducing diseases that can be transmitted between humans and gorillas, training locals on the technology and research methods used in gorilla conservation, and building goodwill with residents, DFGFI will expand Fossey's work.
"We can now do what Dian could never do," says Richardson. "Because we live in these communities now, we can do outreach and people-focused programming."
Aaron Lazenby is a senior editor with Oracle Publishing.