ASHEBORO, N.C. – The North Carolina Zoo’s award winning conservation program has received a $51,460 grant from the United States Fish and Wildlife service to help conserve gorillas living in the wild. Money from the grant will go toward researching and monitoring diseases that threaten Cross River gorillas, the most endangered type of gorillas in the world.

“We have been able to put together a great team of scientists and field biologists for this project. With expertise from Emory University, New York’s Wildlife Conservation Society and the North Carolina Zoo, we will be able to answer a number of important questions regarding the threat that disease poses to these critically endangered gorillas” said Dr. Rich Bergl, Curator of the Zoo’s Conservation and Research Department.

There are only between 200 and 300 Cross River gorillas remaining in the wild. The species is restricted to remote and mountainous areas of Nigeria and Cameroon. Cross River gorillas are listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List. One potential threat to the long-term viability of the Cross River population is disease transfer from humans and livestock. Many ape populations across Africa have experienced significant mortality as a result of disease. The impact of diseases that apes contract is exacerbated in situations where, as in Cross River, the population is already under stress due to habitat loss, hunting and other pressures where there is a significant human presence.

Due to those significant levels of human activity, it is important to research and study diseases so conservationists can develop strategies for limiting their potential impact.

“The North Carolina Zoo has been working with a number of partners for almost 10 years to protect the Cross River gorilla population,” said Pat Simmons, Director of the Zoo. “This project will be a significant addition to our existing work, which uses science and technology to make conservation efforts more successful.”

Through money received from the grant, the Zoo’s conservation team will implement strategies to determine patterns that cause parasite infections in Cross River gorillas; determine how diseases found in humans and livestock can impact gorillas; establish health and disease threat monitoring protocols; reduce the risk of disease transmission from humans working in the forest and reduce the risk of disease transmission to gorillas from local communities and livestock.

The Zoo’s conservation department will start implementing practices from the grant in January 2016. In December 2017, the conservation team hopes to have all research and strategies for diseases in Cross River gorillas finalized. This new project is just one of the many ways that the NC Zoo contributes to the conservation of endangered wildlife internationally and here in North Carolina.

Zoo visitors can always see gorillas up close by visiting the Zoo’s gorilla habitat. The Zoo has seven gorillas, including two gorillas that are three-years old.

About the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources 

The North Carolina Zoo is an agency of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. The N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (NCDNCR) is the state agency with a vision to be the leader in using the state’s natural and cultural resources to build the social, cultural, educational and economic future of North Carolina. Led by Secretary Susan Kluttz, NCDNCR's mission is to improve the quality of life in our state by creating opportunities to experience excellence in the arts, history, libraries and nature in North Carolina by stimulating learning, inspiring creativity, preserving the state’s history, conserving the state’s natural heritage, encouraging recreation and cultural tourism, and promoting economic development. 

NCDNCR includes 27 historic sites, seven history museums, two art museums, two science museums, three aquariums and Jennette’s Pier, 39 state parks and recreation areas, the N.C.  Zoo, the nation's first state-supported Symphony Orchestra, the State Library, the State Archives, the N.C. Arts Council, State Preservation Office and the Office of State Archaeology, along with the Division of Land and Water Stewardship. For more information, please call (919) 807-7300 or visit