The Largest Monkey in the World Is Endangered: How Zoos and Associations Are Fighting for Conservation

A drill in Hannover Zoo / Hannover Zoo
A drill in Hannover Zoo / Hannover Zoo

Posted: 4 May 2022

The number of drills in the world has been in the last years in worryingly decrease. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified the species as endangered after being assessed in 2017. The IUCN’s Red List details that there are around 4,000 individuals left in the wild. That is why the #DayOfTheDrill, promoted by the ‘Save The Drill’ association, has become an important date to raise awareness towards the conservation of the largest monkey species in the world. That is where zoos have taken action over the last years. Approximately 120 drills are cared for in progressive zoos around the world, creating unique opportunities to conserve them.

The drill is native to Africa and, although it is highly elusive, it has been spotted in areas of Nigeria, Cameroon and Bioko Island, in Equatorial Guinea. Together with its closest relative, the mandrill, the drill is the biggest old world monkey. Males weigh approximately 30 kg and females average 11 to 13 kg. They are generally frugivorous, meaning they are fruit eaters, but they also consume plants, seeds and insects. Drills tend to avoid open areas and tend to be strict forest inhabitants.

One of the reasons why they are endangered is their brave nature, as they stand their ground when facing danger, which makes them an easy target for hunters. Drills are among the most threatened primates in Africa.

Three members of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) that keep drills have been tirelessly working to ensure the species preservation. The Barcelona Zoo welcomed on March 2020 Rourke, a male drill sent by the Bristol Zoo that started associating with four females in order to begin a process of sociabilisation. However, as early as in 1987 the Barcelona Zoo provided the Hannover Zoo with Bioko, a male breeder that an offspring of 14 individuals. On that same year Barcelona Zoo became home for two young drills that had been confiscated from a circus by the Catalan government.

The Atlanta Zoo also contributes to the drill’s conservation programme. It does so by supporting the Drill Ranch, a project created by Pandrillus, an organisation founded in the late 80s that runs three rescue centres. About 600 drills live there.

'Save The Drill' campaign

Roland Wolf, a former drill keeper at the Hannover Zoo, developed an idea with which he intended to save drills in the late 70s. Wolf created the ‘Action Save The Drill’, which later led to the creation of the ‘Save The Drill’ association. He also got in touch with Liza Gadsby and Peter Jenkins, founders of the Pandrillus project, and provided them with financial and material support.

The goal of the association, as they put it, is to promote and preserve drills in their natural habitat.

The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) is the global alliance of regional associations, national federations, zoos and aquariums, dedicated to the care and conservation of animals and their habitats around the world.

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