Gorilla pregnancy at Riverbanks is part of species survival plan

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The countdown is now at about 4 weeks until Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Garden welcomes its first baby gorilla.

While excitement is building for the birth, it is also a reminder for us of the realities gorillas face in the wild. Researchers are finding fewer and fewer of these animals in the wild, and 9 years ago they were placed on the Critically Endangered list.

"Gosh to think about a world without gorillas is just devastating to many people," said John Davis, curator of mammals at Riverbanks.

But based on current trends, it may one day be a reality. The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that western lowland gorillas are expected to experience an 80 percent population reduction between 2005 and 2071. It is a criteria that qualifies them as Critically Endangered.

"It's absolutely staggering, and of course there are a lot of efforts right now going on to help turn this around, but it's a very wide range of habitat to cover," added Davis.

Found in parts of West Africa like Cameroon and the Congo, there are estimated to only be between 100,000 to 250,000 western lowlands left in the wild. Davis says what once was a lush habitat is now plagued with threats.

"There is still illegal poaching of these animals," said Davis. "Some of it, it's direct where it's intentionally seeking out the gorillas, and a lot of it is just indirect."

In addition to being hunted, Davis says their habitat continues to be taken away.

"As people start to invade into the animal territories it has a dramatic impact on the gorillas' well-being and ability to thrive," said Davis. "They cut down more trees and take away a lot of the food sources, their protection, and their shelter."

But the threats don't end there. Gorillas are highly susceptible to diseases like the Ebola virus.

"Unfortunately, until vaccination measures are in place for both people and for animals it's going to continue to decimate all primate societies, but specifically the western lowland gorilla," added Davis.

They are all reasons why Macy's pregnancy at Riverbanks is so important for the species.

"Every birth is significant in contributing to add to continue the effort to preserve these animals in captivity so that they can serve as ambassadors to their wild counterparts," said Davis.

They are also constant reminders of the realities for gorillas in the wild, and why it may be up to us to do something about it

"Let's get out there and start to find out where we can make a difference," added Davis. "There's an endless amount of knowledge to gain from these animals and their habitat. Get out there, and let's spread the word."

Davis says AZA Zoos like Riverbanks are often the best starting points to support conservation efforts. The Riverbanks Conservation Support Fund has contributed more than $800,000 to efforts across the globe since its inception in 1996.

Davis says all AZA Zoos combined currently support about $160 million in conservation projects worldwide.

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