It’s been a wild ride for those of us who love gorillas. Last week the Reddit investor group WallStreetBets started a viral, grassroots campaign to adopt gorillas in support of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, and we received thousands of donations, mostly through our gorilla adoption program.
We were surprised and honored by this sudden flood of generosity. The onset of the pandemic in 2020 made our work in the forests of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo more difficult, more costly — and more critical to the survival of gorillas and the humans who live nearby. This pandemic, which scientists agree likely began when a zoonotic disease “jumped” from wild animals to humans, made it clear that, while it is expensive to protect and maintain pristine forests, there is a greater cost to letting these forests be damaged.
The WallStreetBets donations will be used not only to protect gorillas, but to protect their forest home, which is the second largest tropical rainforest on the planet and one of our best natural defenses against climate change. As we often say: when you save gorillas, you save the planet.
To understand what we plan to do with this generosity, it helps to understand the four pillars underpinning our people-centered approach to conservation.
Pillar One: Protecting individual gorillas and their families. First and foremost, we are dedicated to the protection of individual gorillas and their families. There are just over 1,000 mountain gorillas left in the world, and while their numbers are slowly increasing, they are still dependent on our daily intensive conservation activities. Their cousin the Grauer’s gorilla is in an even more precarious position, as their population has dropped an estimated 80% in the past two decades. We have boots on the ground 365 days a year in the forests of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to protect these endangered animals. Our trackers hike for hours in the forest to check on the gorillas we monitor, ensuring they are all healthy and accounted for. They also search the forest for snares left by poachers, which can injure or even kill gorillas. In 2020 we are proud to say that, thanks to their hard work, we were able to destroy 2,200 snares in DRC alone — and zero gorillas from the groups we monitor were injured by them.
Pillar Two: Conducting critical science needed to develop conservation strategies. Good conservation is underscored by good science. As the world’s longest running gorilla research center, we have contributed enormously to what is known about gorillas. Our studies focus not only on gorilla behavior and conservation but also on monitoring the biodiversity of the forests where gorillas live to ensure the health of their overall ecosystem.
Pillar Three: Training future leaders to address the conservation challenges of the future. Long-term conservation depends upon equipping the next generation of leaders in Africa and beyond with the skills and knowledge they need to protect their forests in the future. Each year we train hundreds of university students in Rwanda and the DRC, provide educational scholarships to our staff, and offer internships to early career scientists to further their skills. We are proud that many of our former students now work in conservation organizations throughout the region, including at the Fossey Fund.
Pillar Four: Helping communities living near gorillas through livelihood, food security and education initiatives. We know that saving gorillas isn’t enough. We also need to work to help the human communities that live nearby, reducing their need to enter the forest in search of food or income and teaching them about the global importance of these forests they call home. We support secondary school nature clubs, helping them to plant trees and raise livestock; teach community members how to build fish farms and kitchen gardens; and train local teachers so that they can better teach their students about the importance of gorilla conservation. Last year alone our programs helped more than 15,000 people living near the gorilla habitat in Rwanda and the DRC.
We rely on donations to fund all of these projects, and we have been fortunate to have an enthusiastic and supportive donor base that has enabled us to continue the important work that we do every day. We are excited to welcome the WallStreetBets supporters to the Fossey Fund family, and we will use the money they have so generously given to continue the work we’ve been doing for more than 50 years, since our founder Dian Fossey first pitched a tent in the mountains of Rwanda and named it “Karisoke.”
We currently have a four-star rating from Charity Navigator, the principal nonprofit watchdog and largest independent charity evaluator. We are always careful stewards of our donations, and this will not be an exception. The WallStreetBets community’s support will play a critical role in enabling us to continue our daily work to protect gorillas and will allow us to invest in increasing our protection staff in both Rwanda and the DRC; improving the infrastructure of the remote camps where our field teams are based; and purchasing the equipment essential to our work, such as vehicles, tents, and uniforms.
We are deeply grateful to the generosity shown by WallStreetBets and all the incredible donors who have supported this organization over the last 50 years. It inspires and motivates us and shows how by working together, we can help save one of the planet’s most iconic and vulnerable species; we are truly #ApesTogetherStrong
Dr. Tara Stoinski
President, CEO and Chief Scientific Officer
The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund