Billionaire media mogul Ted Turner has made a $1 million donation to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International to help support a new initiative to save endangered Grauer's gorillas (also known as eastern lowland gorillas, Gorilla beringei graueri), a subspecies living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) whose population is on the decline.
The donation, the largest the Fossey Fund has ever received, will be used to build field stations from where rangers can protect gorillas from armed groups fighting over natural resources in the war-torn nation. The Fossey Fund is also in the process of hiring five Congolese team leaders and 25 gorilla trackers who will collect data and monitor the animals.
Grauer's gorillas can only be found in the DRC, where they currently receive very little protection. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, their population has "experienced a significant population reduction in the past 20 to 30 years" and is expected to continue to drop because of habitat loss, political instability, mining, the bushmeat trade and other factors. Current estimates, which are merely educated guesses, place the species's population from as low as 4,000 to as high as 27,000 individuals. The gorillas' few remaining habitats are also home to other rare and endangered species, including the forest elephant, okapi and eastern chimpanzee.
"It comes down to this," Turner said in a prepared statement. "Every single gorilla counts; every single person counts in protecting the gorillas; and every single dollar counts in supporting the work to protect the gorillas."
His ultimate goal might be even loftier. "I wanted to make a statement," he told the Atlanta Journal–Constitution. "If mankind can learn to stop killing the great apes, maybe we can learn to stop killing each other."
Turner visited the DRC in 2009 and trekked to Virunga National Park to see the other subspecies of eastern gorilla, the famous mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei), which have better protections than the lowland cousins.
The Fossey Fund was founded by the famous naturalist Dian Fossey who studied mountain gorillas and was murdered in 1985.
Turner's announcement came just days after billionaire Richard Branson and actress Bo Derek lent their star power (but apparently no cash) to efforts to protect polar bears in Canada.
In other gorilla news, an international team of researchers has decoded the DNA of the western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla). You can read more about that achievement and what it tells us about ourselves here.
Photo: Young Grauer's gorilla by Dean Jacobs, courtesy of Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International