David Field: Zoos are a vital part of gorilla conservation

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The Independent Online

Without a doubt, seeing a gorilla will rank as one of the most breathtaking moments in anyone's life. Even with the privilege of working at ZSL London Zoo and seeing them every day, they continue to take my breath away.

We believe that gorillas in zoos have the potential to make an animal lover and conservationist out of every zoo visitor – and with primates now more threatened in the wild than ever before, promoting conservation couldn't be more important.

Many of the conservation issues facing gorillas in Africa are driven by the Western world and its growing demand for resources. Coltan – used to make the microchips in mobile phones and laptops – is mined from areas where gorillas live, destroying their habitat and driving them closer to populated areas where they are either poached or killed.

Timber from Africa may be cheap to us, but the price for gorillas is as high as it gets – huge areas of woodland are destroyed and roads built through deep forest areas, exposing gorillas to opportunistic bush-meat hunters.

With this much pressure on wild gorillas, their future looks grim. But zoos have a significant role to play in stopping this bleak future from coming to pass. We can educate people about the impact their lives have on gorillas, we can inspire them to take action and we can raise money for conservation through zoo visits and fundraising.

Dr David Field is zoological director of London Zoo