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Plight Of Gorillas To Be Highlighted By Head Of Dian Fossey Fund

By Ted Cox | October 4, 2017 10:50am
 Tara Stoinski, head of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, monitors a mountain gorilla.
Tara Stoinski, head of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, monitors a mountain gorilla.
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Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund

LINCOLN PARK — A leading gorilla expert speaks at Lincoln Park Zoo Thursday on the plight of the great apes in Africa.

Tara Stoinski, head of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund named for the renowned gorilla researcher who began her work in Africa 50 years ago, will speak as part of the zoo's Wine & Wildlife series at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Great Ape House.

Stoinski said she planned to focus on the diverging paths being taken now by mountain gorillas and Grauer's gorillas.

Mountain gorillas are actually on the upswing, she said in a phone interview Tuesday in advance of her Chicago appearance.

"They are still one of the most critically endangered animals on the planet," Stoinski said. "There are less than 900 of them left. But they are moving in an upward trajectory."

 Tara Stoinski
Tara Stoinski
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Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund

Grauer's gorillas, which live at lower elevations in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, are more numerous, with an estimated 3,800 in the wild. But according to Stoinski Grauer's are "probably the most at risk of the four gorilla subspecies," having lost 80 percent of their population just over the last 20 years.

"If the situation does not change soon on the ground, over the next decade or so they will be extinct," Stoinski said.

Grauer's gorillas are more numerous than mountain gorillas, but their population has been reduced more over the last 20 years. (Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund)

Much of the problem, she said, concerns illegal mining in the Congo. According to Stoinski, Rwanda has a robust conservation program helping to sustain the mountain gorillas, but the Democratic Republic of Congo is "an area that has seen a lot of conflict." Illegal mining has not only cut into the Grauer's habitat, but it's left the animal prone to poaching as a food source for miners.

"Not only has it decimated wildlife populations, but it's led to immeasurable human suffering," Stoinski said.

What can Chicagoans do? Stoinski said the mining is for minerals used in electronic devices, and the Obama administration worked to restrict trafficking of "conflict minerals" on the order of "conflict diamonds" considered contraband. But the U.S. House recently voted to defund those efforts, and that conservative proposal is now before the U.S. Senate. Stoinski is urging American voters to tell their senators to halt that attempt to defund enforcement of the restrictions.

But as part of Thursday's program she'll also be comparing notes with Lincoln Park Zoo colleague Dave Morgan.

"Lincoln Park Zoo has been a longtime partner of ours in our scientific work," Stoinski said. Fossey Fund researchers are currently studying stress levels of Grauer's gorillas, with "changes in stress" reflected by altering hormone levels found in fecal samples. Researchers are sending the samples to Lincoln Park Zoo, which is conducting the analyses.

Stoinski called it "a great opportunity to come and learn more and hear about some of the successes we've had," but only for those who already have a ticket. The $17 event ($14 for zoo members) with a cash bar is sold out.

Fossey did for gorillas what Jane Goodall did for chimpanzees, and her life was the subject of the 1988 biopic "Gorillas in the Mist" starring Sigourney Weaver.