Made Possible Through a Collaboration with the L.A. Zoo, Rainforest Trust, and Other Prestigious Conservation Partners, GRACE Gorillas Will Lead Local Community Efforts to Expand Gorilla Habitat While Building Thriving Communities

(From Left to Right) Dr. Jake Owens, Tommi Wolfe, GRACE Gorillas Executive Director, Beth Schaefer, L.A. Zoo Director of Animal Programs, and Laurie Cummins, GRACE Gorillas Education Manager, at the ‘Gathering for Gorillas’ event on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023.
(From Left to Right) Dr. Jake Owens; Tommi Wolfe, GRACE Gorillas Executive Director; Beth Schaefer, L.A. Zoo Director of Animal Programs; and Laurie Cummins, GRACE Gorillas Education Manager, at the ‘Gathering for Gorillas’ event on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023.

As part of its World Gorilla Day (Sept. 24) celebration, the Los Angeles Zoo and its conservation partner, the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) Center, announced the creation of the Usala Conservation Corridor, which will connect two biodiversity hotspots—the Maiko National Park and Tayna Nature Reserve—in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The Usala corridor will comprise 346,000 acres of newly protected forest habitat for gorillas as well as elephants, okapis, pangolins, chimpanzees, and other vulnerable species. The L.A. Zoo and its non-profit, the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association (GLAZA), also announced an ambitious fundraising initiative to support the development of this corridor.

“GRACE Gorillas is helping Congolese NGOs and civil society groups build a community-led conservation success story where protected forest habitats are home to a healthy population of Grauer’s gorillas and the thriving local communities that care for them,” says GRACE Gorillas Executive Director Tommi Wolfe. “We’re so grateful for the financial support, guidance, and awareness that the L.A. Zoo brings to this very important initiative.”

The L.A. Zoo’s financial and advisory support of GRACE Gorillas and this bold corridor initiative deliver on its guiding principle to respect people, their land, the wildlife they share it with, and their pursuit of equitable livelihoods. As part of the Usala Conservation Corridor project, local communities will receive permanent land rights in return for managing the areas sustainably, and all forest guardians will be hired from those communities.

The corridor project and GRACE Gorillas fundraiser were announced during the “Gathering for Gorillas” evening event at the Zoo, which featured a panel discussion and Q&A with GRACE Gorillas Executive Director Wolfe, GRACE Education Manager Laurie Cummins, CEO and Zoo Director of Animal Programs Beth Schaefer, and Zoo Director of Conservation Dr. Jake Owens in the Zoo’s Witherbee Auditorium. Following the program, Brenda Scott Royce, award-winning author of the new children’s book Angela & Lulingu: Two Gorillas, a World Apart, met with guests and signed copies of the book, which contrasts the story of the Zoo’s youngest gorilla with that of her counterpart at the GRACE Gorillas sanctuary in the DRC. A portion of the proceeds of the sale of the book goes to GRACE Gorillas.

“This is a very special night,” says L.A. Zoo CEO and Zoo Director Verret, “where we’re celebrating our partnership with GRACE and taking it to the next level through enhanced multifaceted support that includes the fundraiser, book sales, and, of course, knowledge sharing from our Zoo experts.” Verret serves on GRACE’s board of directors, Director of Animal Programs Schaefer is a longtime animal care and welfare advisor for the organization, and Director of Conservation Dr. Jake Owens provides strategic and operational input.

Why Saturday’s announcements are significant:

  • With the L.A. Zoo’s help, GRACE Gorillas acts as technical lead for the Congolese NGOs implementing this bold conservation initiative whose ambitious scale and scope meet the urgency of the moment
  • Through the creation of the new Usala Conservation Corridor, local communities will obtain land rights in return for sustainable management of their tribal lands. This enables local communities to be stewards of the land where they co-exist with wildlife, a big win for economic and environmental justice
  • At COP15, almost 200 countries agreed to conserve 30 percent of Earth’s lands and waters by 2030 in a landmark initiative to curb biodiversity loss. The creation of the corridor will advance these global efforts by over half a million acres of intact primary tropical forest. With the Zoo and GLAZA’s expanded their financial commitment to GRACE Gorillas, this results-driven organization can continue to grow its community-focused conservation efforts

A key threat to gorillas in the wild is habitat destruction due to mining for minerals used in components for handheld electronics. Responsible, sustainable recycling of such devices at the L.A. Zoo through partner Eco-Cell helps save gorilla habitats and funds direct conservation in Africa by GRACE Gorillas and other organizations.

Angela & Lulingu is available at the Zoo’s International Marketplace and online at shop.lazoo.org.

To learn more about GRACE Gorillas, visit https://gracegorillas.org.