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WWF in Action: Congo

Meet Dr. Richard Carroll

Managing Director, Congo Basin, Namibia, Madagascar programs

“Glimpsing a gorilla through the green veil of the jungle, catching its eye and sensing the species connection made me realize that if we humans cannot protect our nearest relatives, then we have failed as a species.”

“People call me the Silverback Gorilla because of my rough gray beard, my thick gray locks and because I run with apes for a living. I am the managing director of Congo Basin, Namibia and Madagascar, for WWF, and the task before us is as monumental as the cause is urgent: In the Congo, if current deforestation trends persist, 70 percent of the region’s forests could be lost by 2040. During my years in the jungle, I had several near-death experiences from staph infection, malaria, dengue fever, charging elephants and a mislabeled bottle of embalming fluid that I mistook for water. I’m now pre-embalmed, so I may live forever.

“I grew up on a small farm in rural Connecticut, with a naturalist for a mom. After finishing my undergraduate studies in marine biology, I joined the Peace Corps. I wound up in the Central African Republic; I lived in small villages, learned the local languages and culture, taught fish-farming, then went into the wild to follow rhinos and elephants. I still shudder at the memory of getting chased by lions while riding a 175 Yamaha on an elephant trail.

“With gorillas, you have to do everything you can not to run. I don’t care who you are: If you try to make a mad dash, they’ll pursue you like linebackers, take a bite out of your backside and scamper off with a rump roast. The only way to ward off a gorilla is to stand your ground, divert your eyes so as not to stare and act like a monkey—which comes somewhat easy for me! Gorillas are smart, funny, beautiful creatures. Glimpsing a gorilla through the green veil of the jungle, catching its eye and sensing the species connection made me realize that if we humans cannot protect our nearest relatives, then we have failed as a species.

"Despite our fear of this intimidating creature, ecotourism provides opportunities for protecting gorillas and their forest homes and for helping the local people. WWF has habituated gorilla groups to humans to develop opportunities for gorilla tourism. The organization has also trained trackers and guides as part of the development of controlled tourism programs. Visiting and observing these gorilla groups with an expert guide is safe and an invaluable means of conserving the troubled gorilla population in Africa."

© Martin Harvey/WWF-Canon

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