L.A. Zoo Named Recipient of Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s (AZA) International Conservation Award

CONTACT: L.A. Zoo Press

October 7, 2016

Award Recognizes L.A. Zoo’s Collaborative Work With The Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE)

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the primary accrediting body for top zoos and aquariums in the United States since 1974, awarded the Los Angeles Zoo the 2016 International Conservation Award for their work with the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) Center in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) benefiting Grauer’s gorillas. This national honor, bestowed upon nine AZA-accredited Zoos for their collaborative work with the GRACE program, was awarded to the L.A. Zoo during the 2016 AZA Annual Conference held this past month in San Diego. The annual award recognizes exceptional efforts toward regional habitat preservation, species restoration, and support of biodiversity in the wild.

“My involvement in the GRACE program has allowed me the chance to utilize my skills as an animal manager to help save these gorillas from extinction in their range country and hopefully get them back to the wild one day,” said Beth Schaefer, L.A. Zoo General Curator and Co-Chair of the GRACE Animal Care and Welfare Advisory Group. “To have our accrediting body recognize our hard work with the GRACE Center is a real honor. It’s why zoos are relevant, and it validates the work we do every single day as a zoo.”

All of the orphaned gorillas in the GRACE program were confiscated at an early age from the illegal wildlife trade and cared for by the Congolese staff. But as the gorillas grew older, staff could no longer be as hands-on with the gorillas in their daily interactions. Schaefer, along with staff from six other AZA-accredited zoos, have made several trips to the GRACE Center in the DRC to share their knowledge and techniques for successful gorilla care, medical training, and to consult on building an addition to the night house, a quarantine facility, and a 25-acre forest enclosure, the largest gorilla enclosure in the world.

During Schaefer’s three trips to GRACE, a 48- hour journey by land and air, not only was she able to share captive management techniques the L.A. Zoo animal care staff uses daily to maintain the Zoo’s six Western lowland gorillas, but she was also able to assist in the design and execution of GRACE’s 25-acre forest habitat. The enclosure was designed and built to introduce the hand-reared gorillas to a forest mimicking the wild so that they may learn to forage for the first time, be introduced to other native animals, and eventually gain the tools they will need to be reintroduced into their native jungle.

“Rehabilitating critically endangered Grauer’s gorillas is something that has never been done before,” said Dr. Sonya Kahlenberg, GRACE Executive Director. “We depend heavily on zoos like the L.A. Zoo because they are the world’s experts in gorilla care. They work closely with our Congolese staff to give them the skills they need to care for orphan gorillas. I have been so inspiredby the level of commitment of our zoo partners. They regularly come out to our very difficult location and help us remotely year-round by serving on advisory groups. More than once, Beth Schaefer has been on the phone in the middle of the night to help our staff coax sick gorillas into taking their medicine! This AZA honor highlights how zoo expertise is directly helping to save gorillas in the wild. We thank the L.A. Zoo for their amazing support of our work in the Congo.”

About the Los Angeles Zoo
Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the landmark Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens, drawing 1.6 million visitors each year, is home to a diverse collection of 1,100 animals representing 250 different species, many of which are rare or endangered. Its lush grounds on 113 acres feature a botanical collection comprising over 800 different plant species with approximately 7,000 individual plants. The Zoo is located in Griffith Park at the junction of the Ventura (134) and Golden State (5) freeways. Admission is $20 for adults and $15 for children ages 2 to 12. The Zoo is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For information, call (323) 644-4200 or visit the L.A. Zoo Web site at www.lazoo.org.

Grauer’s gorillas, one of four gorilla subspecies, only live in eastern DRC, a region that has been plagued by war and insecurity for decades. Due to rampant poaching, Grauer’s gorillas have declined in number by an alarming 77 percent over the last 20 years, and only 3,800 individuals now remain in the wild. They have just been listed as critically endangered by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). A growing number of gorilla orphans have been confiscated by authorities, victims of poaching and illegal wildlife trade. In 2009, GRACE was founded to rehabilitate these gorillas with the ultimate goal of reintroducing them back into the wild. Nine AZA-accredited zoos now partner with GRACE, providing financial support and invaluable expertise on gorilla care, facility design, veterinary medicine, scientific research, and conservation education. Six of these zoos have sent 23 staff members to the DRC (58 individual trips) to advise on programs and build capacity of GRACE’s Congolese team. As a result of this intense training, GRACE caregivers are now some of the most highly skilled in Africa. Zoos play a central role in GRACE, which is developing into one of the best primate sanctuaries and a key player in the effort to save Grauer’s gorillas from extinction. For more about GRACE, visit the website, watch video, and follow on social media (Facebook: GRACE4gorillas, Twitter: @GRACEgorillas).