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Update from the field: Drill Ranch

I’m Jenny Ghents, Primate Keeper II. I’m the Quarters for Conservation Champion for the Pandrillus Foundation’s Drill Ranch, one of the three efforts supported in the 2018-2019 program year of Zoo Atlanta’s Quarters for Conservation initiative, which sends 25 cents of every general admission ticket to programs for wildlife. I’m proud to be able to share an update on the work of Drill Ranch.

Ever wonder what it takes to be a conservation hero? For a lot of people, just the idea of becoming involved with conservation efforts can seem like a very daunting task. With so many global issues at play today, it can be difficult to discern where actions are most needed and how much of an impact one person can make. By visiting Zoo Atlanta, you have already taken that first big step in the shoes of conservation heroes. And by taking the time to vote for Drill Ranch in Quarters for Conservation, you’ve helped to contribute funding directly to a fantastic organization working tirelessly to push drills back from the brink of extinction. In this way, you’ve already begun your conservation journey. For this update, I’d like to share the pathway that led Pandrillus founders Liza Gadsby and Peter Jenkins to their current roles as conservation heroes.

Drills were considered extinct in their native lands of Nigeria and Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea, no less than 30 years ago. Scientists desperately held onto the seemingly last known population in Korup National Park, Cameroon, unaware of the lingering presence of small populations across the Cross Sanaga region of Nigeria and Cameroon. Unfortunately, these individuals were facing threats from all sides. Their habitats were relentlessly fragmented and destroyed, putting them in closer contact with humans who hunted them for bushmeat. These combined threats led to dramatic losses in an already dire situation. Fast-forward to 1988, when Liza Gadsby and Peter Jenkins first set out to study this elusive primate, with the goal to understand more about them and conduct surveys to gain population perspective. After seeing the devastating effects local practices had on this species, the two shortly thereafter established the Pandrillus Foundation, which aimed to prevent the extinction of drill monkeys, a not-so-easy task. Through their hard work, Gadsby and Jenkins have inspired others to join the cause. Their foundation has since grown to benefit several other species and natural wildlife in the area, and has become a beacon of hope for conservation in the region.

This past April, Gadsby and Jenkins were awarded the Primate Leadership Award at a ceremony that took place at the International Primate Protection League (IPPL) in South Carolina, U.S. This community chose to honor them for their unending dedication and commitment to conservation, and I can think of no better candidates.

Their current days are spent traveling back and forth between Nigeria and the U.S., fostering collaboration and funding to continue their efforts, and working boots-on-the-ground at their Drill Ranch sites in Calabar and Afi Mountain, often times with short staffing, limited resources and harsh weather conditions. In fact, just recently they received over seven inches of rain in 48 hours! However, according to Gadsby, “Nearly all the drills just sit it out in the rain, then shake off their lovely coats when the rain stops and fluff themselves up.”

It’s this positive attitude and enduring spirit that have allowed these two to do what they do every day. They are the type of people who give us everyday conservation-heroes-in-training the inspiration to keep going. They have also shown me that while it can be hard to figure out what the first step may be, it’s more important to simply take that first step. This is not unlike all of you, who come to visit the animals here at the Zoo. You come to form connections with the animals, and take what you have learned and those connections you have made out into the world to inspire others to connect and conserve. In this way you have, whether you realize it or not, begun your own path to conservation hero. Let these two remarkable individuals show you that no change is too small and no action is unimportant, because at the end of the day, we’re all working to make positive impacts on the world around us, and that’s something to be proud of.

Thanks for your continued support of conservation at Zoo Atlanta. Remember that next time you’re at the Zoo, you can vote at our Quarters for Conservation kiosk to decide which of our three programs will benefit most from your support.
Jenny Ghents
Keeper II, Primates

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