Archive for the ‘Advocacy’ Category

Take Action Tuesday: When “cute” animals reveal an ugly truth

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

If you’re reading this, you probably have a love of animals, so when you see videos and photos of animals that make you laugh or melt your heart, you want to share them. Us too! Unfortunately, there’s often an ugly truth behind “cute” videos and photos.

A prime example is the slow loris videos that have circulated. The slow loris is such an adorable primate, and the videos seem to show these animals in a happy environment. But the ugly truth is that these endangered animals are part of the illegal exotic pet trade and the behaviors that may look cute to us are actually signs of fear and stress.

A new example is the Android commercial called “Friends Furever” promoting unlikely animal friendships. Upon first glance, the video clips seem like a heartwarming example of friendship breaking the species barrier, and your first instinct might be to share the commercial with other animal lovers. The ugly reality is that exotic animals such as the orangutan and the elephant seen in the commercial are trained at a very young age (when they should be with their mothers) to pose for photos with humans, and they are forced into relationships with other species for the sole purpose of creating and circulating “cute” photos and videos. The orangutan, Suryia, and the elephant, Bubbles, both live at Myrtle Beach Safari in South Carolina.


Myrtle Beach Safari, operated by Bhagavan (Doc) Antle, has a history of repeated animal welfare violations. Masked behind what they claim is a sanctuary preserve, the facility regularly exploits their wild animals for a variety of media productions and endangers the public by offering “hands-on” experiences and traveling shows. Apes are wild animals, and without proper enclosures and respect for their true nature, many have attacked and brutally mauled humans.

Just last summer, two young chimpanzees were taken to a movie theater to garner attention for the Safari. Recently, these same chimpanzees, Vali and Sugriva, were seen on an episode of A&E’s Wild Transport, where they were taken to a crowded restaurant—creating yet another public safety risk just for a glorified publicity stunt.


In that episode, Vali and Sugriva were being transported to a facility in Miami called Jungle Island, where they have special “hands-on” encounters with guests, sometimes celebrities, which gains even more attention for the Safari.

After speaking with Eyes on Apes and other advocacy groups about the issues surrounding Vali and Sugriva’s appearance in the show, the A&E Network decided to cancel the series—setting a precedent for other companies to follow.

Unfortunately, actress Hayden Panettiere very recently posted a photo to her Twitter account of her holding the chimpanzee Vali at Jungle Island.


Images like this with humans in contact with chimpanzees perpetuate the misunderstanding about chimpanzees’ true nature and encourage the exotic pet industry.

Vali, Sugriva, Suryia, and dozens of other exotic animals under Antle’s care are living at a romanticized roadside zoo. These animals deserve better—they deserve a true sanctuary home where they can live out their lives without being shuffled from one exhibition to another.

Companies such as Pfizer have responded favorably when they learned the truth about Myrtle Beach Safari. We’d like to call upon Android to make the same compassionate decision.

We urge you to write to Android and Hayden Panettiere and ask that they remove any material that misinforms the public and promotes the Safari.

You can leave comments on Android’s Facebook page or the post of the Friends Furever video, reply to their tweet on Twitter about the commercial, and reply to Panettiere’s photo on Twitter as well. You can also email Panettiere, c/o her publicist, at . We’ve provided examples of what to write below.

In the big picture, when you see “cute” photos and videos of animals, ask yourself where these animals came from, where they are living now, what their future is likely to be like, and if the behaviors you see are the choice of the animal. You might be able to search and find the answers to these questions, or you might be left with more questions. When in doubt, don’t hit that share or forward button, because you might just be perpetuating exploitative, dangerous, or illegal activity.

Sample Facebook comment to Android:

I was disappointed to see that your new “Friends Furever” commercial promotes pseudo-sanctuaries such as Myrtle Beach Safari, where “unlikely animal friendships” like Suryia the orangutan and Roscoe the dog are forced after exotic animals are taken from their mothers at a very young age. In the wild, baby orangutans stay with their mothers until they are eight years old, so you can imagine how important that bond is for them. Not only does the Safari mislead the public into believing that these are “cute” relationships, but they also regularly put people at risk with public exhibitions of wild animals and exploit the animals for entertainment—things a reputable sanctuary would never do. This glorified roadside zoo has also had numerous animal welfare violations (

You’re not the first to be duped by this pseudo-sanctuary. Pfizer chose to alter a Robitussin commercial that was originally aired using Suryia, replacing the live animal scenes with realistic, high-tech computer generated images after they learned the truth behind the Safari. I urge you to make the same decision involving the clips of the exotic animals in your commercial. Thank you for your consideration of my comments on this urgent matter.

Sample Tweet to Android:

@Android please change #AndroidBFFs ad to exclude clips of animals in roadside zoos. Robitussin did it before! See more at

@Android “cute” #AndroidBFFs animals reveal an ugly truth. Don’t glorify roadside zoos! See more at

*Sample email to Hayden Panettiere:

Dear Ms. Panettiere,

I know that you are an animal lover and have spoken out about the dolphin slaughter in Japan. I applaud you for your passion! Because of your obvious concern for animals, I was shocked and disappointed to see a photo of you and a baby chimpanzee named Vali circulating social media. You should know that when people see you holding a baby chimpanzee it perpetuates the cruel pet and entertainment industries. Baby chimpanzees belong with their mothers, and they shouldn’t be shuffled around to exhibitions or hands-on encounters. Vali was reportedly purchased from an animal breeder, and he belongs in a true sanctuary where the focus would be on his needs, not the desire of the public to have photo-ops with him. I urge you to please remove the photo from your social media and pledge to never participate in hands-on experiences with captive wild animals again.

Sample Tweets to Hayden Panettiere:

@haydenpanettier please remove the photo of you and Vali the chimp. He deserves better! Learn more

@haydenpanettier love chimpanzees like you love dolphins – don’t participate in their exploitation!

RT! Tell @haydenpanettier to remove photo of her w/ chimp – they’re wild animals & shouldn’t be used for publicity.

Lastly, please share this alert with friends and family. Change can only happen with more awareness! Thank you for speaking up for apes in need.

*If you email Hayden, please remember to BCC for tracking purposes. Thank you!!

What Hurts the Most

Saturday, February 7th, 2015

I was going to just post three photos of three amazing chimpanzees today (see photos below) with short captions, but I have been thinking about this CNN article all day. When I was looking at the photos, I thought even more about it.

The article, titled, “Chimps still stuck in research labs despite promise of retirement” is about the pronouncement the NIH made in June 2013 that they were going to retire all but 50 of the chimpanzees they owned to sanctuary. So far? Six have been retired and, according to the article, 24 have died.

It’s that last fact that really gets to me. Twenty four chimpanzees, who (unbeknownst to them) were potentially granted freedom from biomedical testing, died before they could experience a sanctuary life.

As things are right now, Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest could not take in retired NIH chimpanzees – Chimp Haven, a wonderful sanctuary in Louisiana, is the only sanctuary that has a contract with the government to retire NIH owned chimpanzees and therefore also the only sanctuary that receives federal funding.

But we know there are also over 400 chimpanzees who are privately “funded” by biomedical research institutions. They too deserve to know a life in a TRUE sanctuary, and they too are dying before they have that opportunity.

The NIH announcement a year and a half ago seemed to signal the beginning of the end of the use of chimpanzees in biomedical testing in the United States, but this means nothing to those individual chimpanzees who will spend the next however many days, months, or years waiting, only to die in a laboratory – never knowing there was an alternative life waiting for them.

I’m not going to pretend that I have the immediate solution to this problem. I know that many people are working on it, and it’s going to require a lot of trust, cooperation, and, especially, money. But, when I look into the eyes of the chimpanzees at CSNW who have known six and half years of a quality sanctuary life, it hurts to think of the chimpanzees out there waiting for the same chance.

We must maintain hope, however. And CSNW must work towards a future that includes retiring more chimpanzees at our sanctuary, whether from biomedical research or the pet and entertainment industries.

Their only hope lies with all of us.



Foxie arm on shoulder



Jamie hugging boot



Negra looking out window


This photo of Negra was in our last e-news communication about Share the Chimp Love)

Negra close-up


Ebola and Great Ape Conservation

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

There are many questions about how this year’s Ebola outbreak started, how it spread so quickly, and how to prevent it from spreading further—but what does Ebola have to do with non-human great ape conservation?

It is known that Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever is transmitted by coming into direct contact with bodily fluids of someone infected and showing symptoms of the virus, a cadaver of someone who died from the virus, or the fluids or meat of an infected animal.

Bushmeat is the meat of any non-domesticated animal that is consumed by humans. In Africa, bushmeat is not only consumed locally, but it is exported worldwide. Many bushmeat species are endangered, in which cases the hunting of those species is illegal. Still, these animals are hunted, and their meat is sold on the black market and exported to other countries, including the United States. No one really knows just how many pounds of illegal bushmeat are smuggled into the U.S., because it is believed only a fraction of the imports are confiscated—but estimates range from hundreds of thousands to millions of pounds per year.

While habitat loss is the largest long-term threat to African ape populations, hunting for bushmeat has risen in the last couple of decades as the most significant immediate threat—and could cause species extinction if the practice continues to grow. However, with the emergence of the deadly Ebola virus, more people have begun to tune into the problem. Though research shows that fruit bats serve as hosts to the Ebola virus and are believed to be the direct source of the current outbreak, consumption of infected ape meat has been linked to previous outbreaks since the late 1990s. Primates and other animals can become infected by eating half-eaten fruit that have come in contact with fruit bat saliva, and the virus is passed to humans who eat infected animal bushmeat.

The Ebola virus can also be detrimental to wild ape populations. In 2002, over 5,000 gorillas died from an outbreak. In fact, the threat of imminent Ebola outbreaks (and other pathogens) on already dwindling populations has prompted researchers to propose developing a vaccination for the apes. Before vaccines could be administered to wild apes, however, some researchers feel they would need to be tested on captive apes. As we know, there is a push to end the use of chimpanzees in research altogether, so the topic sparked a debate earlier this year (read more on that here).

The Ebola scare has also left African sanctuaries in a predicament, such as Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Sierra Leone—one of the affected countries.




The travel limitations and general panic about the disease have kept people away from the country, and the lack of outreach opportunity has hit the sanctuary and others like them hard. Additionally, with travel restrictions in the affected countries, it is harder for volunteers to help with the day-to-day work. The sanctuaries have had to hire more local staff, causing their funds to be stretched thin. Recently, the Chimpanzee Conservation Center in Guinea has been impacted by this trouble as well. Thankfully, no apes in sanctuaries have contracted Ebola, and all the caregivers have been taking extra hygiene precautions to make sure everyone stays healthy.

Though the direct threat to great apes from Ebola is reason for concern, it’s possible that the attention on Ebola could have a positive impact on ape conservation and help prevent future outbreaks in human populations. Unlike other pandemics and deadly pathogens, which are able to sustain in human populations long-term, Ebola is a unique virus in that it comes and goes sporadically in humans in the form of destructive outbreaks. So far these outbreaks seem to have originated from human contact with infected wildlife. With effective education in local communities, and efforts to take legal action against logging, prevention of hunting and eating bushmeat can save countless lives—of both human and nonhuman apes.




Take Action Tuesday: One Direction’s wrong turn

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

EOA take action tuesday

Last month, we sent out an action alert about the band One Direction’s new music video with a chimpanzee named Eli. Several advocacy groups, experts, and supporters from around the world wrote to the band, but so far we haven’t heard any kind of commitment from the boys to avoid working with apes in future productions. Since their new album is releasing next week, we want to continue to put pressure on the band and ask that they make the pledge before their album release—and until they do, we will spread the word to fans and tell them not to buy the album.

Many of our readers are aware of the tragic lives of chimpanzees in entertainment—chimps like Jamie, for instance, live with trainers when they are young and when they are too big to be managed, they have to live inside a cage for the rest of their lives. Jamie is lucky to have reached a sanctuary, but many others have not had that chance. Some of Eli’s trainer’s former chimp “actors” have been cast off to decrepit roadside zoos. The trainer himself, Steve Martin, has been cited numerous times for things such as failure to have an environmental-enhancement program to promote the psychological well-being of primates, failure to supply adequate shelter from the elements and inadequate ventilation, failure to provide animals with minimum space, filthy cages, and improper feeding.


We’re so disappointed that the One Direction band members are promoting the exotic animal trade rather than using their celebrity statuses to protect chimpanzees, who are critically endangered in the wild.

We urge you to continue to put pressure on One Direction to remove the photos and promise to never use apes again. Please post on their Facebook and Twitter pages and let them know that chimps like Eli should not be used in entertainment. Not only are there numerous welfare concerns, but seeing chimpanzees in close contact with humans perpetuates the idea that they can be treated as pets.

You may also send a letter to the band c/o Lisa Wolfe at

Sample Comment on One Direction’s Facebook:

I am disappointed to see that One Direction went ahead and included clips with Eli in the Steal My Girl video, despite hearing from concerned advocates. Chimpanzees do not belong in music videos and you should know that Eli’s trainer is cited for dozens of animal welfare violations ( Showing these images perpetuates the idea that chimps make good pets. Please make the compassionate decision pledge to never exploit great apes for entertainment purposes again. I won’t be buying your new album until you make that promise, and I’ll tell all my friends to do the same. Thank you for your consideration of my comments on this urgent matter.

Sample Tweets to One Direction:

@OneDirection sad to see Eli in #StealMyGirlVideo. I won’t buy your new album until you pledge to never use apes again!

@Louis_Tomlinson @zaynmalik Eli had a nasty chain on his neck in the #StealMyGirlVideo pics! Please promise you won’t work with apes again.

We would love to see Eli and all remaining chimpanzees in entertainment reach a sanctuary, so they can receive the lifetime quality care they deserve and get a second chance at life like Jamie. We’d love to hear stories about sanctuary life someday for Eli and others like this one of Jamie:

This morning, new volunteer caregiver-in-training Lizz kept Jamie busy for quite awhile by dropping a piece of banana just outside the fencing. Jamie first used a magazine, but when that didn’t help much, Denice gave her a plastic tube which was much more helpful. Once she got the banana up against the fencing she used her fingers to delicately move the banana to spot where she could pull it through. We’ve talked a lot before about Jamie’s knack for projects and keeping busy, but when she’s not working on various projects—she’s quite talented at nest-making, and consequently, nap-taking.



The final thing you can do to help Eli is to spread the word! Please share this blog on social media and encourage your friends to speak up for him, too.

Chimp mothers

Saturday, October 18th, 2014

Yesterday was Negra’s son Noah’s birthday, and Save the Chimps posted a photo of the birthday boy which I shared today on our Facebook page. We’ve shared stories of Noah before (as well as Negra’s daughters Angel (also at Save the Chimps) and Heidi (she’s sadly still in a lab).

A question we almost always get is whether the chimps would recognize their kids should they ever have the chance to. For the kids that are no longer in labs (Negra’s kids Noah and Angel at Save the Chimps, Foxie’s daughter Angie at Save the Chimps, Jody’s kids Andrea, Bart, and Clay at Save the Chimps, Annie’s kids Mariah and Virgil at Save the Chimps and son Tobias at Chimp Haven, and Missy’s kids Josh and Honey B at Wildlife Waystation) that will likely never happen. It’s also not too likely that their kids who are still in labs would ever be reunited with them (Foxie’s kids Kelsey and David, Negra’s daughter Heidi, and Jody’s son Levi) because they are fully grown adults and it would be difficult to integrate them into our existing group.

But if at another sanctuary a mother were reunited with her children, would they recognize each other? My response to this question is usually simply: probably not. As is the case with most lab births, their babies were taken away from them within days (sometimes just hours) so the likelihood that they would recognize their fully grown children is pretty slim. I think of human births where the babies are given for adoption — would they recognize their biological child 20 years later? Probably not… but maybe. There have been stories of chimps being reunited with their mothers after being separated from each other very early on, who showed signs of recognizing each other. So, I guess the answer should be: probably not, but it is possible.

Here’s some recent photos of our chimp mothers:











We are grateful to the sanctuaries who are caring for the Cle Elum Seven’s children, and hope that one day soon Levi, Kelsey, David, Heidi, and the hundreds of other chimps still in labs will find a sanctuary to call home.

Grooming is so cool

Saturday, October 11th, 2014

We’ve talked about the importance of grooming among chimpanzees before, and it’s pretty well known what an essential aspect of life grooming is for most primates. Below is a video of very good friends Burrito and Foxie grooming, with Missy (off-camera), occasionally also grooming Burrito.

There’s a lot of cool things about grooming. In a comment on a post back in 2009, I mentioned some of the following:

The basics: aside from the social aspects, grooming is the removal of dirt and debris and the tending to wounds (licking and picking scabs). It’s why chimpanzees don’t need baths – they do a really good job of cleaning themselves and each other – no water necessary.

The debris found on the grooming partner is not necessarily consumed, even though the lips are usually involved in grooming because chimpanzees use their prehensile lips, almost like another set of fingers, for many activities like inspecting objects, turning the pages of a magazine (in captivity), and especially in grooming.

Increased grooming often occurs after a conflict to reassure and/or “make up” with one another and to cement social bonds. Grooming has a calming affect, which is easy to see when you observe chimpanzees grooming one another. A study of wild chimpanzees that used non-invasive methods to collect urine samples after grooming bouts found that oxytocin (sometimes referred to as “the love hormone”) levels were higher in bonded grooming partners than in samples collected of chimpanzees who had not been grooming or had been grooming with a “non-bond partner.”

Regarding lip movements during grooming: it is common for chimpanzees, as well as other primates, to “lip smack” or “teeth clack” or make other “sympathetic mouth movements” when grooming (also when performing other fine motor behaviors – like many of us who move our tongue a certain way when we’re really concentrating on a task).

Each chimpanzee does his/her own thing, Burrito is a lip smacker (he may teeth clack on occasion too), Foxie is a teeth clacker, and Annie makes raspberry sounds with her lips. The intensity of the mouth movement/noise will increase if something (especially a wound or scab) is found during grooming.

Some scientists have hypothesized that these sympathetic mouth movements were an evolutionary step towards spoken language. Our friend Gabriel Waters and [former] Central WA University professor Dr. Fouts published a study on this theory a few years back:, and there was a book with this premise called Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language, which I admittedly still need to read, that argued that gossip for humans is what grooming is for chimpanzees and other non-human primates.

So, with all that information, here’s the video of Burrito and Foxie strengthening their friendship through grooming today:


Take Action Tuesday! Tell Ramsay to stick to yelling at would-be chefs and leave chimpanzees alone

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

EOA take action tuesday

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay recently posted photos of himself and his family members holding a baby chimpanzee to his Facebook page. The chimpanzee is showing his or her top teeth in this photo, which is actually a fear grin—not a smile.

Chimpanzees are not pets! They are wild animals who should be with their mothers when they are young, and who are dangerous when they get older. Seeing chimpanzees in close contact with humans perpetuates the idea that they can be treated like pets.

We’re so disappointed that Gordon Ramsay is promoting the exotic animal trade rather than using his celebrity status to protect chimpanzees, who are critically endangered in the wild.

We want Gordon Ramsay to remove the Facebook photos of the baby chimpanzee. Please send a polite letter to him, c/o his publicist Staci Wolfe, letting him know that chimps should not be used for photo ops alongside humans. Please urge Ramsay to remove all the photos from his Facebook page and promise to never host a visit with a chimpanzee again.


You may send your letter to Gordon Ramsay c/o Staci Wolfe at

Sample Letter to Gordon Ramsay:

Dear Mr. Ramsay:

I was disappointed to hear that you took photos with your family holding a baby chimpanzee and posted them to your Facebook page. You should know that when chimpanzees show their top teeth it is a sign of distress, not happiness.

Chimpanzees provided for photos ops to pose with humans are torn away from their mothers as infants, often repeatedly beaten during training, and then discarded when they become too strong to be managed.

Using a chimpanzee for a photo op sends the message that these amazing beings are simply props. When people see you holding a baby chimpanzee, they assume that chimpanzees make good pets. Though chimpanzees may seem cute and cuddly when infants, they become dangerous as they get older. They are an endangered species that should be protected, not used for entertainment.

Please make the compassionate decision to remove the photos, and pledge to never pose holding baby chimpanzees again. Thank you for your consideration of my comments on this urgent matter.

[Your name here]

If you send an e-mail to Gordon, please remember to BCC Eyes on Apes at for tracking purposes. Thank you!

Chimpanzees Don’t Belong on Either Side of the Theater Screen

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

A story appeared recently in the Daily Mail and Good Morning America showing images and video of two young chimpanzees, Vali and Sugriva, going to the theater with their “handlers” and watching the film Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The irony is that the two young chimpanzees were exploited for this publicity stunt, and brought into a theater to watch a movie that purposefully avoided using live ape actors… (Read more on Care2)

Angel was kept in a Hollywood training facility and routinely beaten and abused into submission by her trainers. She displayed a toothy grin—called a fear grimace—just at the sight of a camera. Angel was rescued by the Center for Great Apes as part of a legal suit against her former trainer.

Angel was kept in a Hollywood training facility and routinely beaten and abused into submission by her trainers. She displayed a toothy grin—called a fear grimace—just at the sight of a camera. Angel was rescued by the Center for Great Apes as part of a legal suit against her former trainer.

For more on the training facility Vali and Sugriva live at, visit our trainer page on Eyes on Apes.

Thank you to Care2 for posting our op-ed on this issue! Please share the article with your friends and get the word out that chimpanzees do not belong on either side of the theater screen.

Portraits, then and now

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

Humans, like chimpanzees, are very visually oriented. I think one of the most powerful ways we can show people how important sanctuary is, is by showing the “before and after” comparisons.

After decades in research, the chimps looked like ghosts of themselves. For some of them, coming to CSNW was the first time they’d ever been outside and felt fresh air and sunshine.

In just a few months, we saw dramatic changes in their appearance. Their hair and skin darkened and they began to look (and I imagine, feel) much more healthy. As our sixth anniversary approaches (next week!) I like to look back and see how far they’ve come in six years of sanctuary.

Yesterday’s post of Burrito looking especially handsome reminded me of that same spot we took many of the “before” photos in. There’s a window right by that bench, so for their first few days here, they would sit and look out the window at the surroundings of their new home. I can’t imagine what they must have been thinking—the fear of the unknown. We know that now they have nothing to be afraid of, and everything to look forward to.

I love showing people those first photos of the chimps compared to them now out on Young’s Hill, surrounded by beautiful grass, with the sun on their backs and the view of the valley below. This time, however, I want to show a more direct comparison—the chimps sitting in the same exact spot as they did the first couple days they were here. Most if not all of the “after” photos have been posted before on the blog, but I thought it’d be nice to see them all together.

Annie before:
web Annie sit on FR4 bench second day before

Annie now:


annie portrait fr4 1

Burrito before:

web-Burrito before

Burrito now:

web Burrito eat corn husk front room 4 IMG_4912


Foxie before:

web foxie look out window early FR 4 100_0324

Foxie now:

web Foxie trolls portrait front room 4 FRs IMG_6782


Jamie before:


Jamie now:

web Jamie head shot FR IMG_3265 copy


Jody before:

web jody look out window 3rd day Picture 054

Jody now:

web Jody lie on bench troll in pelvic pocket look at camera front room 4 FR IMG_3058


Negra before:

web day 2 negra with blanket FR 4 Picture 106

Negra now:

Negra holding snow

Negra looking at camera with night bag

We haven’t gotten a portrait of Missy in the same spot as the others, perhaps because she is always on the move. :)

Protecting Mountain Gorillas through Community Involvement

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

This is our first guest blog post about gorilla conservation, written by Gretchen Clymer. Gretchen first became passionate about primate conservation after reading Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey as a teenager. She went on to complete undergraduate and graduate studies in Biological Anthropology, conducting behavioral research on different primate species, including golden lion tamarins, rhesus macaques, and chacma baboons. She has worked for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGFI) in both Atlanta and Musanze, Rwanda. As a primatologist, she has remained active in primate conservation and welfare, including currently working with Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest.

bwindi impentrable forest gorillas
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda. Photo: Ian and Kate Bruce, 2013.

The threats to the survival of mountain gorillas, and all of the great apes, are severe and multi-faceted. Habitat loss due to logging and industry, armed conflict, the illegal bushmeat and pet trades, and infectious disease represent significant threats to the populations of chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans. Over the past 50 years, approaches to ape conservation have shifted as conservationists understand more and more that survival of ape populations is inextricably linked with the welfare and involvement of the communities that live near chimpanzee, gorilla, and orangutan habitats.

Early approaches in conservation

The pioneering research conducted by Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birutė Galdikas in the 1960’s-1970’s brought the world’s attention to the fascinating behaviors of the great apes. Their work also brought to light the pressures that threatened the very survival of chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans. Conservation approaches at that time were largely focused on preservation of habitat, and the assumption that conservation of apes and their habitat was primarily realized through enforcement. Dian Fossey, in particular, championed methods she called “active conservation,” that were often antagonistic towards communities residing on the fringes of mountain gorilla habitat. This method of conservation focused only on protecting mountain gorilla populations while failing to take into account that poachers, loggers, and encroachers were not motivated by maliciousness, but rather the simple and stark need to provide for themselves and their families.

bisate health clinic
Bisate Health Clinic, Musanze, Rwanda. Photo: Gretchen Clymer, 2007.

The shift towards community-involved conservation

Habitat preservation is certainly paramount in working for the survival of the great apes, and this requires legislation to protect habitat as well as enforcement of existing legal protections for ape habitat and poaching bans. However, as approaches in ape conservation have been refined over the last 50 years, conservationists have learned the importance of embracing local communities in conservation, and of the intertwined relationship between human welfare and ape conservation.

Since Dian Fossey’s untimely and tragic death in 1985, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGFI) and other mountain gorilla conservation groups have taken a different approach to conservation, focusing on including the local community into conservation efforts, through community programs, research, and eco-tourism.

It is estimated that “gorilla tourism may exceed $30 million USD shared between Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)” (International Gorilla Conservation Program, 2014). Gorilla and other great ape eco-tourism not only brings money directly to conservation efforts by providing funds for anti-poaching patrols and research studies, but also helps to create a link to the local community by establishing a tourism industry, which in turn provides financial security to the area while actively discouraging unsustainable poaching and deforestation practices. Providing social services for population areas where community needs are great and currently unmet is an additional effective strategy to involve the community in conservation efforts. For example, the DFGFI, partnering with other organizations, provides funding for the Bisate Health Clinic, a rural health clinic in Musanze, Rwanda, by helping to promote health, education, and economic growth in an attempt to provide these communities with the opportunities to become more self-sufficient and less dependent on resources gathered from within the boundaries of the park.

Another program, in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest of Uganda, is Conservation through Public Health, which has focused on preventing “the spread of disease from wild animals to humans, and vice versa, by improving primary healthcare for people and animals in and around protected areas in Africa” (Whitley Fund for Nature, 2011). The program has sought to engage the local community by enlisting their help with gorilla population surveys and monitoring, as well as devoting efforts to community-led outreach and education. Conservation through Public Health also strengthens eco-tourism programs by improving facilities for this important conservation sector and ensuring that disease from visiting guests is not then spread to vulnerable mountain gorillas.

Virungas Volcanic Range, Rwanda. Photo: Gretchen Clymer, 2007.

Educational programs and support are another important realm in community-involved conservation. Practical education programs on health and sustainability can support local communities and ease resource or ecological pressures on ape habitat resources. Conservation education (from primary through graduate education levels), fosters local pride and involvement in conservation and can be hugely impactful in ongoing conservation efforts for apes. The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International is active in nearly every level of educational opportunity in the communities near mountain gorilla habitat – from health education programs in local communities, to conservation education in local schools, up through graduate research training at the Karisoke research center. These efforts not only demonstrate that conservation is beneficial to the local communities, they show respect to communities as key stakeholders in conservation.

bwindi gorilla
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Photo: Ian and Kate Bruce, 2013.

Signs for Hope

In the past decade, it appears community-outreach focused conservational approaches show promising signs of success for the mountain gorillas. A 2010 census of mountain gorillas showed a ~26% increase in their numbers in the Virungas since the prior census in 2003 (Gray et al, 2010). While still critically endangered, an increase in population – particularly with ongoing conflict in the region – is a significant victory for the efforts of conservationists and the local communities.

The close proximity between human populations and endangered great apes is undoubtedly a factor in the threat to ape survival. However, fifty years of conservation efforts have demonstrated the importance of protecting apes with the cooperation and support of the populations that reside in proximity to ape habitat. Providing training and material support in sustainable agriculture helps to mitigate the need to log or hunt in critical ape habitat. Using ape conservation funds to provide basic health services such as clean water and medical clinics makes ape conservation beneficial to both the apes and humans in the area. Lastly, educational outreach can instill a sense of local pride in the majestic gorillas, and will hopefully bring about the next generation of conservationists sharing a common homeland with the apes, who will then strive to increase mountain gorilla populations to sustainable levels.


Works Cited:

International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP). 2014. “Tourism.”

Whitely Fund for Nature, 2011. “Mountain Gorilla Conservation through Public Health, Uganda.”

Gray, M. Fawcett, K., Basabose, A., Cranfield, M., Vigilant, L., Roy, J., Uwingeli, P., Mburanumwe, I., Kagoda, E., Robbins, M. 2010. Virunga Massif Mountain Gorilla Census — 2010 Summary Report.