Saving the Mountain Gorilla
Kids Gorilla Summit held to raise awareness about the dangers facing primate population
Craig Hatkoff (third from left) talks as part of the Kids Gorilla Summit. (Photo: Getty Images)
Six schools from the New York City area came together at publisher Scholastic Inc. on Friday for the first Kids Gorilla Summit. Kids from all across the world also participated in the summit by watching a live webcast.
The event was about people coming together to support the endangered mountain gorillas that live in the African nations of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. World-renowned conservationist and paleoanthropologist Dr. Richard Leakey was the guest of honor. Joining him were moderator Trevor Neilson, veterinarian Lucy Spelman, ecologist Dr. Paula Kahumbu, and Craig Hatkoff and his daughters, Juliana and Isabella. Hatkoff and his daughters are the authors of the book Looking for Miza, which is about the mountain gorilla. Former President Bill Clinton, zoologist Jack Hanna, and CNN's Anderson Cooper also sent video messages. President Clinton's Clinton Global Initiative was a sponsor of the summit.
The Kids Gorilla Summit was able to attract so many important people because the mountain gorilla is facing extinction. Poachers, war, and a destruction of the mountain gorilla habitat have reduced the number of mountain gorillas in the world to 720. The mountain gorilla is one of three species of gorilla. The other two are the lowland gorilla and eastern woodland gorilla.
"We all want to save the [mountain] gorilla," Leakey said. "How do we do it? We have to find ways to help people help themselves."
The reason people need to be helped has to do with how they cook their food. Nearly half of the mountain gorilla population lives in the forests of the Virunga Mountains. The people who live there cook using charcoal. To make the charcoal, they cut down trees. The trees they cut down from forests provide mountain gorillas with food and shelter.
"Rwanda is the most beautiful place I've ever been," Craig Hatkoff said. "But if the forest disappears, these gorillas disappear."
The problem that needs to be solved, then, is how to save the mountain gorilla while letting people there cook to feed themselves.
One idea is to come up with an alternate fuel source for the people. Leakey suggested natural gas. Another suggestion was a biofuel briquette, a donut-shaped fuel source made of dirt. The briquettes are made in a wooden press, and three of the briquettes supply enough heat for an entire day of cooking.
Many of the adults at the summit wanted to hear the ideas of the kids in attendance and watching online. After hearing about the problems facing the mountain gorilla, the kids at the summit were given three areas in which they could come up with ideas: How can we raise awareness, how can you help protect the gorillas, and how can you help the people help themselves.
The kids spent an hour brainstorming ideas. At the end of the summit, nearly 250 suggestions for helping save the gorillas, raising awareness, and helping the people in Africa were turned in by the 165 kids in attendance. Each school at the summit also received a Global Act Pact poster, which they could sign as a pledge of their commitment to help save the mountain gorilla.
The ideas from those kids, and kids from around the world, will be posted on the Looking for Miza Web site. Global Act Pacts are also available on the site.
"Young people are the leaders of tomorrow," Leakey said. "This sort of group is the right way to go. And I salute you all."
To make the world a better place, join the Clinton Global Initiative to protect endangered gorillas. Let's show the world we have the power to make a difference!
Watch a video report filed by Kid Press Corps (Rwanda) member Grace Karemara about the role mountain gorillas play in Rwanda!
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Michael Carboni is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.