Fight for survival
‘An Evening for Gorillas’ set for Oct. 4 at Blank Park Zoo
By Matt Miller
Doug Cress has always been a passionate person. It first came at publications like Sports Illustrated and Time magazine, but the Portland, Ore., resident soon discovered that reporting wasn’t his knack. It was Cress’ visit to an African wildlife sanctuary where he found his calling — saving great apes from extinction. With deep roots in animal advocacy, it comes as no surprise that Cress will be the guest speaker at the Blank Park Zoo’s “An Evening for Gorillas” on Oct. 4. Cress and other Blank Park Zoo officials hope to shed light on species fighting for survival.
“The situation gorillas are facing isn’t just an African one, it’s an international one that even Iowans can feel,” said Cress, executive director of the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA), which was created to address the staggering number of orphaned chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos and other endangered animals in Africa. “It would be a colossal shame not to care about an animal that we share so much in common with.”
The alliance is comprised of 18 primate sanctuaries, which are located in 12 countries in west and central Africa. The sanctuaries care for more than 850 chimpanzees, 80 gorillas, 65 bonobos and more than 2,500 other primates, many of which have been orphaned, injured, misplaced or mistreated, largely by humans. Many of the primates saved are babies whose parents have been slaughtered for their meat, a valuable commodity in markets and cities. The bushmeat trade is worth more than $1 billion each year in an area where the average annual family income is less than $100. Experts also say that deforestation by logging and mining companies has contributed to habitat loss.
“What’s happening to these animals is a travesty,” said Jessie Weeks, conservation coordinator with the Blank Park Zoo. “Although the zoo doesn’t have gorillas, we still can inform people about the horrible situations these primates face. We’re excited for Doug to speak about what we can do to save these precious animals.”
“There are a lot of people in Africa and when the forests are being torn to pieces, the animals come out,” he said. “Imagine if your home was destroyed, where would you go?”
In recent years the alliance has started returning apes to the wild. Experts are also working with locals to convert “poachers to protectors,” an effort that has proved effective but still has huge strides to make.
“When we put the animals back into the wild, we hire the locals as wardens to protect them,” Cress said. “It’s a job for the residents, and we actually pay them not to hunt or hurt the animals.”
Researchers predict at the current rate that great apes could be extinct in 50 years if little is done to confront this ongoing problem.
“If they disappear, everything else has failed, too,” Cress said. “Our world will be haywire because everything is connected in some way. But I believe we’ll get this right. Humans are too creative not to address and fix this problem. The bottom line is that we have to change our minds and attitudes. We can’t just sit back and watch. We have to act.”
We the People note: Tickets to “An Evening for Gorillas” are $20 per person ($10 with a student ID) or $120 for a table of eight. The evening begins at 6 p.m. with a social hour and discovery center viewing. A presentation by Doug Cress will take place at 7 p.m. To reserve tickets, call 974-2588 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. CV
The bushmeat trade and deforestation threaten the lives of thousands of great apes in central and west Africa. Photo courtesy of Blank Park Zoo