Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Gorilla Warfare

By Stephen Luntz

Rachel Lowry has initiated campaigns that have helped gorilla conservation and reduced the use of palm oil in food.

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By the time you read this Rachel Lowry may have already led one of the biggest advances in wildlife conservation in Australia’s history. Yet it all started by dressing up as Priscilla the Cairns Birdwing Butterfly.

Lowry is the Director of Wildlife Conservation and Science at Zoos Victoria. Before this she was the Community Conservation Manager, in which role she drove two hugely successful campaigns. “They’re Calling On You” alerted zoo visitors to the threats posed to gorillas by the mining of coltan, which is used in electronics. The campaign encouraged people to donate old mobile phones to the zoo so that the metals could be recycled. The proceeds from 40,000 donated phones employ eco-guards to protect endangered gorillas.

The destruction of rainforests to create space for palm plantations is possibly the largest threat to the survival of orang-utans in the wild, along with countless species with lower profiles. Much of the palm and coconut oil ends up in processed foods.

“At Zoos Victoria we have 1.7 million visitors a year,” Lowry says. “Very few organisations have that opportunity to talk to so many people who are passionate about wildlife.”

Lowry seized the opportunity to run the “Don’t Palm Us Off” campaign, alerting visitors to the fact that their own diet often contains oil grown on land that not long ago housed orang-utans.

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The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.