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: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory