Yep, you read that right: Denver, Colorado expects to see more than a thousand shaggy black gorillas running upright through downtown this weekend. Look closely, though, and you may be able to detect some polyester fur.
Big group Despite Halloween being just days away, the gorillas on the run are actually folks in costume to raise funds for the Mountain Gorilla Conservation Fund during the non-profit’s annual 5K Gorilla Run.

Gorilla Family!

A family of mountain gorillas (AKA Nat Hab staffer Suzanna Spencer with her husband and nephews, ready for the 2010 Denver Gorilla Run.

Among those “going ape to save gorillas” will be Nat Hab’s own Adventure Specialist Suzanna Spencer.  Running for the third time for the cause, Spencer is excited to once again don the gorilla suit that comes with the $99 race registration fee (for first-time adult particpants; children are cheaper) and draw attention to the plight of one of the world’s most endangered creatures.

Proceeds from this year’s sixth annual Gorilla Run will aid MGCF’s efforts to expand veterinary operations in Rwanda and Uganda, educate local citizens on conservation and build garbage huts so wildlife doesn’t get tangled up in plastic bags and otherwise exposed to human refuse.

Spencer was inspired to run after traveling to Rwanda and Uganda with Natural Habitat Adventures in 2008 where she tracked gorillas in both locations. An always-extraordinary encounter, Spencer’s time with the gorillas was even more remarkable than most.

“We had an amazing experience with my group in Rwanda, where we were the first people to see a newborn gorilla. We sat for an hour watching the mother nurse the baby, clean it, and then she held it up for us to see. It was by the far the best wildlife experience I have had.”

Mountain Gorilla

Photo Credit: Martin Harvey, WWF

Spencer also spent the entire 3-hour walk back down the mountain to park headquarters conversing with one of the trackers about how he got his job, what he thought of conservation efforts in his town, and how gorilla tourism affects his community in a positive way

“He was most excited about the NGOs that put their money into training locals for the effort,” Spencer recalls. “When I came home I started searching for a way to give back to the programs I had learned about, and found that right in my backyard in Denver was the Mountain Gorilla Conservation Fund.


NHA Adventure Specialist Suzanna Spencer, her husband and nephews, all suited up for last year’s Gorilla Run

It wasn’t long before Spencer climbed into a gorilla suit and took to the streets of Denver with the annual cavalcade of primate imposters. Last year, she enlisted her husband and two nephews in the effort. Her goal this year is to raise $300. If you’d like to support Suzanna, donations in any amount are welcome and can be made online through this secure site. If you’re in the Denver area and would like to join the Gorilla Run, more information, including registration details, are available at the Denver Gorilla Run website. Walkers and children, including little ones in strollers, are welcome, too. A variety of prizes will be awarded – take a look at last year’s winners!

The Mountain Gorilla Conservation Fund was established to keep the vision of famed gorilla researcher Dian Fossey alive after she was murdered by poachers in 1985. At the time MGCF was established, fewer than 250 mountain gorillas remained in the world. Today that number has grown to nearly 800, though this critically endangered species is constantly at risk through habitat destruction, disease, poaching for bush meat and intermittent political conflict in the region where Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo intersect.

Mountain gorillas can only be seen in their native rainforests of central Africa, never in zoos, as they do not survive in captivity. To spend time with them in the wild, consider a gorilla safari to their beautiful homeland with Natural Habitat Adventures. Tourism dollars combined with efforts of NGOs like MGCF can make a tremendous difference in the gorillas’ fate.

StartMeanwhile, if you’re in Colorado, get yourself down to Denver’s Lodo district this Saturday, Oct. 29 at 11:00 am to see the fleet of gorillas head off on their journey through the urban jungle. The race starts and finishes at Wynkoop Brewing Company at 1634 18th Street. The local craft brewer is producing Silverback Pale Ale hand-canned beer as a fundraiser for the Mountain Gorilla Conservation Fund, with 50 percent of all profits from the beer going to the organization.

Silverback ale

You can also “like” the Gorilla Run on Facebook to track all the results from afar.

From all of us here in the office, “Go, Suzanna!”

Yours in the family of primates,


P.S. All entrants in this year’s Denver Gorilla Run are automatically entered into a drawing for two free round-trip tickets on British Airways to either Uganda or Rwanda. Imagine being the lucky winner who could use those flights to join NHA’s Ultimate Africa Primate Expedition, which visits both gorilla destinations!