A Bunch Of Ways To Help Gorillas Without Arresting A Mom In Ohio

Don't let Harambe the gorilla's death be in vain.
Harambe in an undated photo from the Cincinnati Zoo.
Harambe in an undated photo from the Cincinnati Zoo.

The fatal shooting of Harambe, a Cincinnati Zoo gorilla, after a boy fell into his enclosure on Saturday sparked anger and sadness. Some people directed their outrage at the mother who let her child out of her sight, even calling for criminal charges. And some were angry with the zoo, which is slated to re-open the gorilla exhibit with a new, improved enclosure.

But while people rallied around the zoo animal's death, far fewer are vocal about the endangered great apes that are at risk of outright extinction in the wild or suffering immensely in the exotic animal trade. No #JusticeForHarambe hashtag will bring Harambe back or help his distant relatives around the world. But here are some things that will.

1. Donate to conservation

A mother mountain gorilla with her infant at Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.
A mother mountain gorilla with her infant at Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.
James Hager/robertharding via Getty Images

This is an obvious one, but it's also the easiest way to help gorillas and other great apes, even if you give just a few dollars. Chimpanzees, bonobos, all four subspecies of gorillas and both species of orangutans are endangered to some degree, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. All are at risk from habitat loss, poaching and other threats.

Numerous wildlife charities work to protect apes in the wild, while sanctuaries care for animals rescued from the exotic pet trade, the entertainment industry or medical research. (Though the National Institutes of Health have stopped funding for testing on chimpanzees, hundreds of chimps remain in labs.)

And many groups, like the Florida sanctuaries the Center for Great Apes and Save The Chimps will let you symbolically "adopt" an animal, which can be a great gift for animal lovers. Charity Watch and Charity Navigator can be helpful resources for finding out which groups will put your money to the best use.

2. Recycle your old phone

Bukima, a silverback mountain gorilla at Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Bukima, a silverback mountain gorilla at Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Kyle Hammons/Getty Images

Mining for coltan, a metallic ore, and other metals used in cell phones and laptops means major destruction of gorilla and chimpanzee habitats in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. On top of that, hunters wind up poaching the animals for bushmeat to sell to miners. Since the mining sites are so remote, miners are often left with little choice but to consume the local wildlife.

And wild animals are far from the only victims. Though major western tech companies have declared they've cut ties with mining operations that fund conflict in the region, the withdrawal of some companies has simply left mines open to militia control, their minerals sold on the black market.

While forgoing cell phones and laptops altogether is unrealistic for many people, ask yourself the next time you’re considering getting a new device: do you really need the latest iPhone, or does yours work just fine?

And if you must get a new phone, recycle the old one instead of just throwing it out. Many zoos will also accept old phones.

3. Avoid palm oil

An orangutan enjoying what appears to be a blade of grass.
An orangutan enjoying what appears to be a blade of grass.
Klaus Kehrls/Getty Images

Palm oil plantations have a devastating effect on the forests of Southeast Asia and the orangutans who live there. Slash-and-burn agriculture, which obliterates habitat, is technically illegal in Indonesia but widespread nonetheless. Plantation workers often kill orangutans, which they see as pests. And deforestation forces more orangutans out into the open, where they are more likely to get into conflict with people. Increased access to the orangutans also fuels trade in young orangutans as pets, which often has tragic consequences for the animals.

But while simply avoiding palm oil is a noble goal, the substance is in so many products, from foods to cosmetics, that boycotting it altogether can seem impossible. Gemma Tillack of the Rainforest Action Network told HuffPost last year that consumers should pressure companies to only use responsibly sourced palm oil.

4. Take a gorilla trek

A male silverback gorilla in an unidentified location
A male silverback gorilla in an unidentified location
Andrew Dernie/Getty Images

OK, we realize this just isn't in the budget for many people. But if you’re someone who is in the market for a vacation, consider one that actively helps animals.

Gorilla Doctors, a nonprofit dedicated to eastern lowland and mountain gorillas, writes that eco-tourism is a major factor when it comes to protecting the animals in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That’s because tourism dollars give the countries incentive to protect the gorillas' habitat rather than use it for agriculture or other purposes.

But if you go to see gorillas in the wild, it’s crucial to follow certain protocols to ensure you don’t do more harm than good. Gorillas are vulnerable to many human ailments, so it’s important to not go on a trek if you’re sick and to stay at least 21 feet away from any of the apes.

5. Choose sustainable wood products

A baby bonobo in a mother's arms.
A baby bonobo in a mother's arms.
Tambako the Jaguar/Getty Images

Along with mining and unsustainable agriculture, logging is a major cause of habitat destruction worldwide. Logging roads also give poachers easier access to vulnerable animals.

Groups like the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace recommend buying wood and wood products (like paper) that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, an international nonprofit that sets sustainability standards on forestry. However, the FSC is far from perfect. Greenpeace -- while stating the FSC is currently the best certification system that exists -- has published a series of criticisms of the organization and laid out a plan to work with the group to improve their practices.

6. Fight the exotic animal trade

A baby chimpanzee in Tanzania's Mahale Mountains National Park.
A baby chimpanzee in Tanzania's Mahale Mountains National Park.
Anup Shah via Getty Images

Hopefully we don't need to tell you not to get a pet chimpanzee. Laws surrounding owning the animals vary by state, but it's always a bad idea, no matter what the legality. While chimpanzees sold in the U.S. as pets are typically bred here, not captured from the wild, that doesn't mean they're domesticated. They are dangerous and unpredictable as house pets and, as a result, are often relegated to an isolated life in a cage or abandoned altogether.

But simply not owning a pet primate isn't the only way you can help. Don't support roadside zoos or other exhibitors that keep primates and other animals in horrible conditions. And if you do observe ill treatment of any animals, publicize it so that other people know.

Also, think twice (and do your research) before sharing "cute" viral videos that misleadingly depict apes as pets. Really, that goes for any wild animal. Millions of people have shared videos of the large-eyed slow loris getting "tickled" without realizing that captive life is hell for them. When these types of videos are shared in a positive way, it misrepresents the animals and increases public interest in owning them.

7. Care about helping humans

Anup Shah/Getty Images

The lives of great apes in developing nations are not going to significantly improve if the lives of the people who live there don’t also improve. That’s understood by groups like the Jane Goodall Institute, which advocates for programs like increasing educational access for women and girls, creating community health centers and helping people work toward more sustainable agricultural practices.

Obviously, this is not the only reason to care about your fellow human beings, but many people forget how strong the link is between human and animal welfare. It's much more difficult to care about the well-being of gorillas when you're worried about the wellbeing of your own human family.

And that's as true in the United States as it is overseas. It's always going to be harder to care about an animal's welfare -- whether it's an ape, a cow or a cat -- if you have pressing concerns about feeding your kids, paying your rent or avoiding violence. So if you're really concerned about animal welfare, don't forget about humans, either.

This article has been updated to clarify that there are two species, but four subspecies, of gorillas.

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