The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the primary accrediting body for top zoos and aquariums in the United States, awarded Nashville Zoo the 2016 International Conservation Award for their work with the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) Center in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) benefiting Grauer’s gorillas.
The annual award recognizes exceptional efforts toward regional habitat preservation, species restoration, and support of biodiversity in the wild. Nashville Zoo, along with eight other AZA-accredited zoos, received the international award for their collaborative work with the GRACE Center.
The GRACE Center is the only facility in the world that provides rescue and rehabilitative care for orphaned Grauer's gorillas – considered the largest and most endangered great ape. The organization was founded in 2009 by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.
Located in a remote, forested area of central Africa, the GRACE Center is currently home to 14 orphaned Grauer’s gorillas between the ages of 3 and 15 years old that live together as a surrogate family. Grauer’s gorillas, also known as eastern lowland gorillas, are closely related to mountain gorillas. They are endangered due to widespread poaching, habitat destruction, and threats associated with the rapidly growing human population within their habitat and civil war and unrest in the region. In the last 20 years, nearly 80 percent of the Grauer’s gorilla population has been wiped out, and only 3,800 of these animals remain in the wild today.
In August, Nashville Zoo brought local awareness of the GRACE Center by hosting a public presentation featuring GRACE Center’s Executive Director Dr. Sonya Kahlenberg. Nashville Zoo President Rick Schwartz actively serves on the GRACE board of directors and the Zoo has supported GRACE through financial contributions since 2013. For more information, visit www.gracegorillas.org.