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The Ford African Rain Forest turns 30

The 1988 opening of The Ford African Rain Forest was a landmark event for Zoo Atlanta and for the city of Atlanta, when the complex’s most famous inhabitant, the legendary late Willie B. the western lowland gorilla, stepped outside for the first time in more than 25 years. The Ford African Rain Forest’s gorilla population is now one of the largest in North America. The complex also includes The Living Treehouse, home to black-and-white-ruffed lemurs, crowned lemurs, ringtailed lemurs and a spectacular diversity of bird life, and The Monkeys of Makokou, home to Angolan colobus monkeys, drill monkeys, Schmidt’s guenons and Wolf’s guenons.

Twenty-three gorillas have been born at Zoo Atlanta since the opening of The Ford African Rain Forest. Research by Zoo Atlanta staff has influenced industry-wide improvements in the care of gorillas in zoos, as well as enhanced the world’s understanding of gorillas, with more than 100 published papers on maternal care, reproduction, social behavior and cognition. Zoo Atlanta is the headquarters of the Great Ape Heart Project, the world’s first effort to understand, diagnose, and treat cardiac disease across all four great ape taxa: gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees and bonobos.

Gorilla populations have plummeted in the wild since the time of Willie B. The species is now classified as critically endangered as a result of habitat loss, poaching, illegal hunting for the bushmeat trade and emerging diseases. Populations living within North American zoos are overseen by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Gorilla Species Survival Plan® (SSP), which seeks to maintain a self-sustaining, genetically diverse gorilla population for future generations.

Zoo Atlanta is a Platinum Supporter of the AZA Ape Taxon Advisory Group (TAG), a collective effort to preserve wild ape populations and to increase and sustain financial support from zoos for their conservation. For more than 20 years, the Zoo has supported its longtime partner in gorilla conservation, The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, by providing pro-bono headquarters space, information technology support and financial resources.

In addition to its international reputation for the care and study of western lowland gorillas, Zoo Atlanta has also risen to leadership in the care of gorillas in a variety of life stages and situations. The Zoo was an early leader in the housing of male gorillas in bachelor groups, and Zoo Atlanta staff have become experts in the care of geriatric gorillas. Choomba, 55, and Ozzie, 57, are among the oldest members of their species, and Ozzie is the oldest living male gorilla in the world.

Visit our Conservation page to learn more about efforts to preserve western lowland gorillas and many other species.

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