When Oklahoma City Zoo Executive Director Dwight Scott traveled to Rwanda last year, it's safe to say he was in his element.
He began his career as a keeper focusing on gorillas. And he sits on the board of one of the most prestigious conservation organizations in the world: the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.
Fossey was the inspiration for “Gorillas in the Mist,” a 1988 film that chronicles the life of the researcher who pioneered the study of mountain gorillas in Rwanda. Fossey was murdered in 1985 in Rwanda but her work lives on.
The CEO of the Dian Fossey Fund, Clare Richardson, and research director Veronica Vecellio will give a presentation at the Oklahoma City Zoo at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Rosser Center auditorium on the zoo grounds. The presentation is open to the public. Rwandan dancers from OCU will perform at 5:45 p.m.
Scott was able to visit Rwanda last year, an experience that demonstrated the value of the work of the Fossey Fund.
“Today it is one of the longest research projects going on in the world,” Scott said. “Because of the methods they use, they have developed some great tracking and monitoring techniques and we knew the population is on the upswing. That's good to hear because in animal conservation there are not a lot of positive stories.”
During his visit last year, Scott was able to view mountain gorillas in the wild. He came away impressed with the work of researchers who monitor the 16 troops of gorillas that have been indentified in the area he visited. A troop consists of anything from two to 30 gorillas.
“To get up to the gorillas, it can be a five-hour trek up the mountain,” he said. “They collect data for an hour and then they have to head back down the mountain. It can be a 12-hour day, but there is an incredible pride that they have in these gorillas.”
One of the most impressive things Scott saw was the work between Fossey Fund researchers and people in the area where the gorillas are most heavily concentrated. Scott said one of the challenges facing both sides is gorilla-human contact. Some gorillas are beginning to venture into more lowland areas to sample the crops of farmers.
But the Fossey Fund also places great emphasis on working with people, building several public facilities including a medical clinic and school.
“That's the great thing about the Fossey Fund,” he said. “They not only take care of the gorillas, they take care of the people in the area. That's something we've learned in our conservation efforts. It starts with the people.”