King Kong to the rescue

The over-sized ape and the director of his blockbuster movie have joined a campaign to save mountain gorillas

A A A

In the epic new Hollywood blockbuster, King Kong is the last of his kind. Transported from his natural habitat and left to swipe at fighter jets swooping around him at the top of the Empire State building, the giant ape faces a pitiful death.

That is, of course, fiction, as seen at the end of Peter Jackson's acclaimed remake of the classic 1930s film. But a remarkable spin-off from the award-winning director's movie has been a boost for efforts to save a rather more real species from extinction.

Jackson, who spent £200m on reshooting the classic girl-meets-gorilla tale, is backing attempts to save the planet's last great apes. When the DVD of King Kong is released later this month, Jackson plans to include a documentary film about the plight of the mountain gorilla in central Africa, whose numbers have been decimated by poachers, trophy hunters and loss of natural habitat.

He is backing work by the International Gorilla Conservation Programme to save the last remaining mountain gorillas. Charity premieres of the new film have already raised more than $100,000 for environmental projects to help keep the species going.

With further talks scheduled between Jackson and animal welfare groups, there is increasing optimism that greater public awareness of the gorillas' plight - there are thought to be fewer than 1,000 of them left - will lead to a worldwide campaign to prevent extinction.

Amid predictions that the last mountain gorilla will die within three decades, other leading Hollywood figures have joined the campaign. Andy Serkis, who plays Kong in the Jackson movie, has recently become a trustee of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, an organisation established by the campaigner in 1978 and renamed to honour her memory after she was murdered, probably by poachers, in 1985.

Mr Serkis told The Independent on Sunday: "The original King Kong film did a lot of damage to the reputation of gorillas and there was a big upsurge in gorilla hunting after that film.

"The tragedy of Kong is that the story is not too far removed from the truth, in that he is the last of his kind. I intend to make gorilla conservation part of what I do from now on."

While his talks with conservation groups have remained private until now, Jackson signalled his commitment to the campaign at the British premiere of King Kong, saying in a video message to the audience: "Gorillas are truly amazing animals - without them there wouldn't be entertainment like King Kong. It's really vital that we take this opportunity to realise how similar they are to us, and how endangered they are."

He added: "There are only 706 mountain gorillas left: that is like the population of a small village in a world of six and a half billion people. I'd like to invite everyone to support the work that the International Gorilla Conservation Progamme is doing, not just for the sake of gorillas, but for the people who live alongside them, and so that future generations can live in a world where gorillas are more than a memory."

Stars including Sigourney Weaver and Christian Bale have backed the campaign, while members of the crew of King Kong are understood to have joined an adopt-a-gorilla scheme.

Chris Cutter, a spokesman for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, told the IoS: "The earth's great apes, including mountain gorillas, are facing global extinction within the next 50 years. If Peter Jackson were to keep throwing his full weight behind the conservation efforts, he would become the issue's 900lb gorilla."

Yet another danger looms for the species. The Independent on Sunday can reveal that, as well as facing the ongoing threat from poachers, initial data from a survey carried out in the Congo - one of the main habitats for gorillas - has confirmed conservationists' worst fears: that the Ebola virus may be spreading among the few that remain.

Researchers working in Odzala National Park, a Unesco reserve once home to an estimated 30,000 western lowland gorillas, were shocked to discover that the virus had reached the 13,600 sq km reserve.

Jefferson Hall, of the Wildlife Conservation Society, said: "Parts of the park where gorillas used to live are now empty of them. It is absolutely a conservation crisis - an emergency. The population has been seemingly decimated."

Stephen Blake, a researcher who spent months studying the scale of the problem, added: "Our preliminary data suggests that Ebola has had a major impact on the gorillas of Odzala. It doesn't look good at all."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea