World Gorilla Day 2021: Bristol Zoological Society is helping to save gorillas across the world

It is World Gorilla Day tomorrow (Sept 24), which gives us the chance to celebrate a remarkable year in our work to help save critically endangered western lowland gorillas.

Since August last year two gorillas have been born here at Bristol Zoo Gardens as part of an international breeding programme to help safeguard the future of this species.

And in the wild, Bristol Zoological Society conservationists have continued their work to help gorillas in Central Africa. They have plans to expand their projects in Equatorial Guinea in the coming year.

Hasani, the first of two gorillas was born in August 2020. But his mother, Kala, struggled to care for him so a team of keepers stepped in.

For months they hand-reared Hasani, which meant looking after him round-the-clock until he was able to be introduced to the rest of the group.

Kera and Hasani

That introduction had to be done slowly and with great care, but has proved successful and Hasani now lives with them all on Gorilla Island.

During this period one of the female gorillas, Kera, showed interest in Hasani and she has now become his surrogate mother.

Sarah Gedman, Mammals Team Leader said: “Kera and Hasani are wonderful to watch. He will giggle with delight when she plays rough and tumble with him. He is very relaxed amongst the troop and is finding his place in the hierarchy.”

Just before Christmas a second infant was born. He is called Juni, a blend of his parents’ names, Jock and Touni. He is thriving and has settled into life with the rest of the gorillas.

The births of Hasani and Juni are really important but they are just part of the work being done by Bristol Zoological Society to help gorillas.

Touni and Juni

Bristol Zoo Gardens, along with other zoos around the world, are ensuring there is a strong population in human care through captive breeding programmes.

Our eight gorillas -- Jock, Touni, Kala, Kera, Afia, Ayana, Hasani and Juni -- are all part of that scheme.

In the wild the number of western lowland gorillas is estimated at around 360,000. They are targeted by hunters and many are shot and their meat sold to traders in towns and cities.

Conservationists from Bristol Zoological Society are involved in a project to help counter declining numbers of the species in the wild at Parque Nacional de Monte Alén in Equatorial Guinea. 

Their work from a base camp within the National Park includes forming partnerships with government agencies in Equatorial Guinea to facilitate monitoring of the wild population, training of national park staff in conservation science methods, and further ape conservation in the region. 

Dr Grainne McCabe, Head of Field Conservation & Science at Bristol Zoological Society, said: “We currently have 23 camera traps and six bioacoustic recorders spread out across the park to monitor wildlife, including the elusive gorillas.

“As hunting pressure is high and gorillas can be shy, these remote methods are best for determining where gorillas are in the park and how many may be left.”

She said there were plans to increase the number of camera traps to 30 and start working with local communities to try to prevent crop raiding mainly by elephants but also gorillas which can lead to retaliatory killings of animals for these raids.

Dr McCabe, who is leading a visit to Equatorial Guinea in January next year, said the link with Bristol Zoo Gardens was important.

She said: “Our gorilla group at Bristol Zoo Gardens are ambassadors for their relatives in Equatorial Guinea, helping to inspire our visitors to make pro-conservation choices as consumers. 

“In addition, we undertake behavioural research on our zoo group, which can lead to advances in how we study and conserve gorillas in the wild.

“For example, we currently have a partnership with the University of Bristol Computer Science Department, where Dr Tilo Burghardt and his PhD student, Otto Brookes, are developing deep learning AI technology with our CCTV footage of our gorilla group to model, identify, and classify gorilla behaviour. 

“The technology is applicable in both captive and wild settings. In future, such programmes could help us to more rapidly, and thus efficiently, analyse camera trap video of gorilla behaviour in the wild.”

Find out more about Bristol Zoological Society’s conservation efforts at home and across the world, here.

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