ASHEBORO, NC – The North Carolina Zoo is excited to announce a collaborative program between its conservation team and New York’s Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has received a national award from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

The Zoo and WCS received AZA’s 2015 Significant Achievement in International Conservation Award for their program to conserve critically endangered Cross River gorillas. This annual award recognizes exceptional efforts toward regional habitat preservation, species restoration, and support of biodiversity in the wild.

“The long-term collaboration between our Zoo and the WCS is an excellent example of how zoos can work together to save species from extinction,” said Pat Simmons, Director of the Zoo. “By bringing together a broad range of expertise and resources, our partnership has helped to preserve not only Cross River gorillas, but also the many other plant and animal species that share their forest home.”

Since 2008, the Zoo’s Curator of Conservation and Research Dr. Richard Bergl has worked with WCS to help protect Cross River gorillas in Africa. There are only between 250 and 300 Cross River gorillas in the world. By working together the zoo and WCS help prevent poaching of gorillas as well as habitat destruction.

“Conservation is a high priority for the North Carolina Zoo and Wildlife Conservation Society, as well as for all AZA-accredited aquariums and zoos,” said Jim Maddy, President and CEO of AZA. “As the North Carolina Zoo and WCS Cross River Gorilla conservation program also serves as a model for other institutions, it is receiving this award for the direct, positive impact these organizations are making on the future of the world’s wildlife.”

Cross River gorillas are only found in a small area in Nigeria and Cameroon and are threatened by bushmeat hunting, conversion of forest for agriculture and logging. To protect the gorillas, the zoo and WCS have implemented a mobile computer-based monitoring system across their range to assess both threats and the impact of law enforcement activities. This system, in tandem with a program of anti-poaching patrols, field surveys and community outreach, has allowed conservation teams with both organizations to quantitatively measure threat, protection and biological data relevant for gorilla and wildlife conservation.

These data demonstrate that since its inception, the project has been able to significantly increase levels of protection, reduce threats, and maintain stability of wildlife populations. The Cross River landscape is one of the few locations in tropical Africa where such conservation success has been documented. While effective conservation of the gorillas and their habitat has encountered, and continues to encounter, logistical, technical and political challenges, the monitoring system has proved an invaluable tool in assessing the effectiveness of Cross River gorilla conservation.

This is one among the many projects that the Zoo is involved with to save wildlife from extinction, both here in N.C. and around the world.


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