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

Gorillas on the Line

A new initiative was launched in 2019 to encourage zoos to serve as centers of conservation action for gorillas through the Gorillas on the Line cell phone recycling campaign. The Gorillas on the Line campaign increases public awareness of threats to gorillas and empowers zoos to engage local audiences in taking action for gorilla conservation. In the first year, 260,000 people and 56 groups, including 20 zoos, came together to collect and recycle more than 12,000 phones and electronic devices. With ongoing support, this number continues to grow each year!

2019: 12,486 devices collected and $6,055 raised
2020: 6,194 devices collected and over $2,000 raised
2021: 10,116 devices collected and over $2,400 raised
2022: 13,885 devices collected and $10,442 raised
2023: 35,174 devices collected and $28,337 raised
Total: 77,855 devices collected and $49,234 raised for gorilla conservation!

We are excited to announce the 6th annual Gorillas on the Line...Answer the Call campaign for 2024! The main campaign runs from February 1 - September 1. All devices should be shipped to Eco-Cell in early September and we will announce the results on World Gorilla Day, September 24th.If you are interested in participating, please click HERE to register.

All proceeds from devices donated to Eco-Cell will be sent to the Gorilla SAFE program which currently supports the work of Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and Wildlife Conservation Society in Grauer’s and cross river gorilla conservation projects. We do recognize some institutions have long-standing relationships with other conservation organizations so there is a space on the recruitment form to indicate if you’d like your funds to go elsewhere.

How does recycling your old phone or handheld device benefit gorilla conservation? Smartphones and other devices (e.g., mp3 players, phone chargers, and tablets) contain coltan, a mineral compound used to power small electronics. Coltan is mined all over the world, including in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where gorillas live. Mining for coltan and other minerals in this area can contribute to gorilla habitat destruction as well as to military and economic conflict. When we recycle our small electronic devices, we reduce the demand for conflict minerals, keep potentially harmful materials out of our landfills, and raise money for gorilla conservation.

In your campaigns, please emphasize the connection between recycling devices and the proceeds from those recycled devices going toward gorilla conservation. While coltan is an important topic, the true tangible connection for our audiences between gorillas and conservation is the money raised to help with habitat protection, monitoring, education, etc.

For example:
Instead of: Recycling old electronics reduces the amount of coltan needed and reduces gorilla habitat destruction.
Please use: Recycling old electronics raises money to directly support gorilla conservation initiatives through the Gorilla SAFE programs.
Items accepted: cell phones, smart phones, tablets, apple/android watches, GPS, mp3 players, e-readers, digital cameras, handheld gaming systems, headphones, and all accessories
Items NOT accepted: laptops

Please check back for updates, resources and news you can use.

Gorillas on the Line Resources:

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. AZA-accredited zoos actively participate in gorilla conservation in many ways, including their ongoing support for World Gorilla Day.

We want to help you and your institution celebrate the day. Check out the World Gorilla Day Toolkit link for press releases, social media posts, images, logos, suggested activities and more. 

World Gorilla Day Resources:

How to Support Gorilla SAFE

We are asking zoos to consider supporting high priority projects with a minimum contribution of $5,000/year to AZA Gorilla SAFE, 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!