Zoos play a very important role in educating the visiting public about the need to conserve gorillas in the wild. In conjunction with this, numerous zoos support in situ conservation. The Toronto Zoo has allocated thousands of dollars to gorilla conservation through the Toronto Zoo Endangered Species Reserve Fund. A long standing project the Toronto Zoo supports is Mbeli Bai in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is one of the longest running research programs on Western lowland gorillas and where researcher Thomas Breuer was the first to document tool use in gorillas (tools include use of a stick or another object to gain food).
Since 2006 the Toronto Zoo has provided cell phone recycling services in hopes of furthering the public's education about how the growing cell phone industry impacts wildlife, particularly on gorillas and their habitat in Africa. The manufacturing of cell phones requires an ore called coltan which is mined in Africa; endangering gorillas and destroying habitat. By recycling cell phones we ultimately decrease the demand for the raw materials used to make them. All money raised by the Toronto Zoo through this cell phone recycling program is donated to in situ conservation of lowland gorillas.
Toronto zoo is an active member of the North American Gorilla Species Survival Plan (SSP). The plan focuses on maintaining a genetically and demographically healthy captive gorilla population at the same time conservation efforts work to protect them in the wild.
Great apes are keystone species in forests that regulate the global climate. A failure to save them from extinction would truly be an irreversible loss. Current conservation efforts need to be widened, as trends suggest that all great ape species could become extinct in the wild in the 21st century, and some even within a few decades.