With last month's disheartening news that gorillas are closer to extinction than ever before, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is embarking on a groundbreaking effort to ensure the long-term well-being and survival of gorillas in zoos.
The Zoo's newly launched Gorilla Health Project aims to explore and ultimately prevent chronic heart disease and other medical issues that are prevalent among gorillas in North American zoos. The project, being run in collaboration with Brookfield Zoo in Chicago and Zoo New England in Boston, recently received an $18,000 grant from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums' Conservation Endowment Fund.
"It's becoming more and more clear that heart disease is a major threat to gorilla health, and we need to figure out how to fix that," said Dr. Pam Dennis, the Zoo's Veterinary Epidemiologist who is heading up the Gorilla Health Project. "We have gorillas in zoos to raise awareness of the crisis they face in the wild, but in order to do that we need to make sure our gorillas are in the best health."
The Zoo's strengthened commitment to improving the future for gorillas in zoos comes as their counterparts in the wild face a bleak future.
Just last month, the World Conservation Union revealed a troubling outlook for Western lowland gorillas, reclassifying them from "endangered" to "critically endangered," which puts the species just one step away from extinction in the wild. The population of Western lowland gorillas in the forests of Africa has declined by more than 60 percent over the past 20 years due to habitat loss, outbreaks of the Ebola virus and hunting of the gorillas for food called bushmeat.
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is a leader in the country's gorilla breeding and conservation efforts. Dr. Kristen Lukas, the Zoo's Curator of Conservation & Science, heads the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Gorilla Species Survival Plan, which oversees the placement and long-term care of gorillas nationwide, and Dr. Dennis serves as veterinary advisor to that panel.