When Mariah was six years old, she watched a documentary about the Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda and the Congo. The documentary focused on Dr. Fossey’s work with mountain gorillas and her dedication to keeping them from harm, as their lives are continually being threatened. Mariah learned that Dr. Fossey had particular affection for one young male gorilla, whom she studied from her very first days in the Virunga Mountains. She named him “beloved Digit” due to a hand injury he sustained from a poacher’s snare. Digit’s gentleness, even as he became a full-grown Silverback, was one way Fossey was able to reveal the true nature of these animals as gentle giants. After learning that Digit and Dian Fossey herself were horribly killed by poachers who were threatened by efforts to protect the gorillas, Mariah was determined to do something to help.
In addition to poaching, Mariah discovered that gorillas are endangered by our environment. At age six, she noticed an Eco-Cell collection box at the Buffalo Zoo.whichsaid, Answer the call of the wild. Recycle cell phones and help save gorillas. Her wheels began to turn. She signed up to become an Eco-Cell Conservation Partner and her dad helped her launch her first cell phone collection effort. As a result, she collected her first 150 phones and created what has now become known as Mariah Saves Gorillas!
While continuing her cell phone recycling efforts, Mariah works to raise awareness for gorilla conservation. She ran a Coins for Congo fundraiser, and even saved up her own money for her first gorilla adoption. Adopting Ubwuzu showed her that any support we give can make a big impact and that we can help save gorillas one by one. The proceeds from gorilla adoptions via the Dina Fossey Gorilla Fund not only help fund direct protection efforts, but also provide for medical care in the wild. She came to realize that even though we are far away from where the gorillas live, we can still make a difference from the other side of the world. Over the years, Mariah has taken her project through schools and has been spreading the word in the Western New York community.