Gorilla SAFE

Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) focuses the collective expertise within AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums and leverages their massive audiences to save species.

The goal of the Gorilla SAFE program is to secure sustainable populations of all gorilla subspecies, with a targeted emphasis on protecting the fragile Cross River gorilla populations in Cameroon and Nigeria and halting the rapid decline of Grauer’s gorilla populations in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Gorilla SAFE program invites and welcomes all interested AZA zoos to become program partners. See the Gorilla SAFE Action Plan for details. Click Here to find out how to support AZA's Gorilla SAFE program.

Conservation Priorities

Gorilla SAFE supports conservation of wild gorillas through on-the-ground protection of gorillas, research and monitoring, and targeted stakeholder engagement and education. Priority subspecies for this plan are Cross River gorillas (Gorilla gorilla diehli) and Grauer’s gorillas (Gorilla berengei graueri) in recognition of the high likelihood of imminent extinction facing both subspecies.  The Gorilla SAFE Action Plan is therefore highlighting and targeting support to two primary field partners for this first three-year period: Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) for Cross River gorillas and Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund (DFGF) for Grauer’s gorillas.

Cross River Gorilla

Inhabiting the rugged highlands on the Nigeria-Cameroon border, the Cross River gorilla is the most critically endangered of all the African apes and one of the most endangered primates in the world. Only about 300 Cross River gorillas remain in an area scattered across 12,000 square kilometers of habitat. The survival of these gorillas is threatened by hunting but also by habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, and disease. Due to these pressures, Cross River gorillas are found only in very remote and mountainous forests where hunters are reluctant to go and where steep slopes prevent farming. Rarely seen, video camera trap footage of the elusive Cross River gorilla (made possible by the Wildlife Conservation Society) made international news in 2012.

Grauer's Gorilla

Grauer’s gorillas are the only gorilla subspecies endemic to a single country— Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Within the past 20 years, this region contained the front lines of two major civil wars. These conflicts had a significant effect on the Grauer’s gorilla population as conservation efforts were curtailed and the demand for bushmeat exploded. Today poaching and the bushmeat trade are the greatest threat to Grauer’s gorilla survival, followed by habitat destruction due to population growth (slash and burn agriculture), industrial-scale agriculture, and extractive industries such as mining. The population has experienced a 75% decline in the last two decades and may face extinction through much of its range in the next decade if conservation activities are not enhanced. Conditions in DRC including extreme poverty, weak governance, non-existent infrastructure, political turmoil, and lack of education/alternative livelihoods - hinder conservation efforts. 


Public Engagement

World Gorilla Day

Zoo interest in gorilla conservation is also evident in the enthusiastic support for public engagement opportunities made available through such initiatives as World Gorilla Day. First celebrated in 2017, World Gorilla Day is celebrated annually on September 24th , commemorating the date on which Dian Fossey established Karisoke Research Center in 1967. The logos from many AZA zoos are listed on the World Gorilla Day website (worldgorilladay.org), demonstrating wide support within AZA for public engagement activities surrounding gorillas.

Gorillas on the Line

A new initiative was launched in 2018-2019 to encourage zoos to serve as centers of conservation action for gorillas through the Gorillas on the Line cell phone recycling campaign. The sharp decline of Grauer’s gorillas over the past 20 years is partly due to habitat loss caused by the mining of coltan, which is used in many of our small electronic devices like cell phones. The Gorillas on the Line campaign increases public awareness of threats to gorillas and empower zoos to engage local audiences in taking action for gorilla conservation. In 2019, 20 zoos hosted a campaign with the goal of reaching 10,000 people and recycling 10,000 small electronic devices. In total, the message reached more than 260,000 people and 56 groups across the country participated to collect and recycle more than 12,000 old mobile phones.

COVID-19 Program Update

to all Gorillas on the Line Partners

We know you each are likely facing daily changes at your institutions as we all work to keep our staff, our animals, and ourselves healthy. In recognition of closures and cancellations, we feel it is appropriate to suspend the 2020 Gorillas on the Line campaign until September of this year. We are not just committed to a healthy future for gorillas, but a healthy future for all of us; and, we recognize that there are many critical priorities for each of us and our community partners to address.

With that being said, we will leave it up to your institutions and community partners to decide whether their participation will stop now (or by the end of this school year), or whether they’d like to continue collecting devices through September 2020. Please ask for your participants to let you know what they decide so we can keep track of what organizations are continuing, and which ones are finishing up now. Flexibility is the key here!

Here is our tentative timeline moving forward – please don’t hesitate to reach out with any further questions:

  • Now-September 24th (World Gorilla Day!): continue collecting electronic devices as you can/are able.

  • September 1st: GOTL emails resume

  • September 24th: Last day to send all electronic devices to Eco-Cell to be counted in the 2020 GOTL campaign

  • September 24th-October 9th: Devices counted

  • October 15th: Totals announced

Grateful for all you do, not only for gorillas but for each other. 

Gorilla SAFE Community Engagement


How to Support Gorilla SAFE

We are asking zoos to consider supporting high priority projects at a minimum $5,000/year but strongly encourage higher commitments and welcome commitments of any level that support our high priority conservation goals. Zoos contributing at the $5,000/year level (direct or in-kind) and above to Gorilla SAFE priority conservation objectives will be recognized as Program Partners. Zoos supporting high priority conservation objectives at a lower level – or supporting other activities outlined in the Action Plan – will be recognized as Program Supporters. With 50% of gorilla facilities currently supporting conservation, we aim to demonstrate measurable positive impacts of zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) on the conservation of gorillas and increase the number of AZA zoos that support field conservation over the next three years. To ensure stability for conservation programming, long-term commitments will be encouraged. Ideally, the efforts of the Gorilla SAFE program will also engage the world-wide zoo community and increase overall support for gorilla conservation.

Thank you for helping us create a future for gorillas!