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World Gorilla Day might as well be World Bamboo Day

World Gorilla Day might as well be World Bamboo Day
© Getty Images

The ratio of people for every one of the remaining 880 critically endangered mountain gorillas left on our planet is 8,850,000:1. How can this iconic animal be saved? Bamboo. 

Without this humble plant, we cannot recover the population of mountain gorillas. Today, on World Gorilla Day, it’s fitting to address the food upon which these gentle, intelligent primates depend. 

Scientists have established that the shoots, stems and leaves of bamboo comprise the largest part of the mountain gorilla’s diet. Yet habitat loss and encroachment into remaining small patches of natural forest continue to put pressure on these remaining individuals.

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Thankfully, there are now several projects in progress to rectify this situation.  

Adjacent to Volcanoes National Park, the Government of Rwanda has shown extraordinary commitments to enhancing and protecting these animals, which are important symbols of Rwandan heritage and pride. The African Wildlife Foundation, a leading international conservation organization, is undertaking a pioneering project to expand this bamboo habitat in partnership with the Rwanda Development Board, and leading bamboo development company EcoPlanet Bamboo, whose CEO sits on EARTHDAY.ORG's  board of directors. The project is using native species of bamboo to pioneer the restoration and expansion of these critically endangered forests. If the forests can be expanded successfully, so too can the population of mountain gorillas. This, in turn, feeds tourism revenues and job creation for surrounding communities, resulting in a holistic approach to restoring our planet.

From climate change, to a loss of biodiversity, to a world drowning in plastic, the bamboo family presents a unique opportunity to address a myriad of environmental problems that our planet is facing.

Bamboo is not just food for mountain gorillas, but it can be a critical tool for restoration. Its fast growth and ecological structures allow it to absorb and store vast volumes of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and its impact can be felt within just a decade. 

Bamboo can be grown on extremely degraded lands. Even the smallest of planting projects can have a significant impact. Riparian buffer bamboo integrates a single row of bamboo into existing landscapes to help with environmental restoration and climate change mitigation. In the state of Bahia, Brazil, as visitors leave the airport on the main highway leading towards the capital city, they are met by a striking arch of 20-meter-high bamboo. Planted like this along roads, bamboo has the potential to reduce ambient temperatures while improving drainage and reducing flooding. Reduced temperatures decrease maintenance needs for roads and similar infrastructure. Planted around agricultural fields as a living hedge, bamboo has the potential to create a rapid wind break, while improving the soil. Additionally, this plant has immense industrial potential. Its fiber has the capacity to be an alternative to some of the industries that advance deforestation across the planet. 

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Bamboo presents a unique solution that allows us to continue to grow, develop and yes, consume, in a responsible way. It helps to restore the planet while providing a renewable source of fuel, food and fiber that our growing populations need.

If we are going to save the mountain gorilla and our environment, bamboo is a solution we must no longer overlook.

Kathleen Rogers is the president of  EARTHDAY.ORG. Follow her on Twitter @Kathleenedn.