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Sierra magazine
Act | On Your Convictions

Go Ape:
An interview with Jillian Miller, Gorilla Organization executive director

Interview by Orli Cotel

Slideshow: See more photos!


A hairy race to the finish line at the Great Gorilla Run in London.

Gorillas are such gentle characters. When you look into gorillas' eyes, they seem to be as curious about you as you are about them. Most people don't know that only 700 mountain gorillas are left in the entire world. Our organization works to save them across central Africa, from Cameroon to Rwanda.

"A few years ago someone in our office saw photos of a race in the U.K. called the Great Santa Run, where hundreds of people dress up as Santa. We thought we could encourage people to run dressed as gorillas to raise money and awareness, and we'd call it the Great Gorilla Run. It took a few months to get permission from the police to hold the run in London, past all the best landmarks, and we managed to track down some gorilla costumes.

The woman we ordered the costumes from had never had such a big order: 400 gorilla suits! We imagined that running in a gorilla suit was costume enough, but people dressed up even more and ran in teams, so we had gorilla ballerinas, cycling gorillas, even Jimi Hendrix gorillas. We had someone dressed as a banana to start it off, so all the gorillas ran after the banana.

"Buses came to a halt, crowds gathered, kids went crazy! It turned into a great public- education campaign. Millions of people found out about the plight of the gorillas.

"The first year we raised about $100,000. Then we expanded to have a race in San Francisco, and now we're planning New York and Amsterdam too. We're even discussing Beijing, on the Great Wall of China. We've raised about $4 million so far. "We want our grandchildren to know about gorillas, not just in history books, but to know that they still exist on this planet as a wonder of nature. And if people can have fun, they are more motivated to spread the word and get excited about the cause."

GORILLAS GONE WILD All four gorilla subspecies are endangered, three of them critically. They are threatened primarily by destruction of their central African habitat.

ON THE WEB To find out more and register to run, visit www.greatgorillas.org.

Photo courtesy Gorilla Organization; used with permission

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