After GameStop, redditors are pouring money into saving gorillas

After they took on Wall Street, obtaining massive profits by betting against the system, a group of garage investors are now using their money to help endangered animals.

Image credit: Flickr / Richard Ashurst

Earlier this year, users of the WallStreetBets group on Reddit, a popular social media channel, started buying volumes of shares in the retailer GameStop. GameStop (GME) had been on the decline for years, with Wall Street investors labeling the stock as a sure goner. With memes and cheers of “We like the stock,” they inflated the company’s share price, raising value for themselves and deliberately withholding it from professional investors from Wall Street – who hoped to profit from the low value of the shares. It’s a bizarre and complicated story, but for now let’s just say a lot of people lost a lot of money, while others made a lot of money.

Now, many of those small investors that bet against the system are using their gains on animal conservation, donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to conservation organizations that protect gorillas, elephants, pangolins, and sea turtles around the world. Most organizations have struggled during the pandemic because of lower funds and limited tourism, and this comes as a godsent to conservation efforts.

Of all the animals, gorillas have been the main beneficiaries. And this isn’t random — again, the reason behind this is (believe it or not) memes. WallStreetBets members refer to themselves and others on the page as “apes,” as part of the group’s internal lingo. “HOLD GME APES TOGETHER STRONG,” said one post of the thousands that flooded the group’s Reddit page.

But memes or not, these investors symbolically adopting apes and donating to foundations including The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and the World Wildlife Fund, making an important difference for conservation.

Meme money, real help

It all started when the user Pakistani_in_MURICA posted an adoption certificate in WallStreetBets last week.  The user had adopted a gorilla named Urungano and listed GameStop as its sponsor. The power was highly welcomed and shared and inspired a number of fellow users to adopt or donate. “I have three adopted infant Gorillas now. Sorry but animals are my kryptonite,” a user commented on the site.

The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund usually gets 20 new gorilla adoptions over the weekend. But since last Saturday it has received over 3,500 adoptions worth $350,000. Most were done out to fictional names such as “Fuck Melvin capital” and “Jim Cramer’s Tears.” The funds will go towards field programs to track, monitor, and study gorillas. 

“The support that has come to our organization, as well as others, is amazing,” Dr. Tara Stoinski, the president, chief executive and chief scientific officer for the Gorilla Fund, told The Guardian. “One of the biggest challenges in conservation is just that there’s not enough funding for the challenges we face on the ground.”

Gorillas were also adopted at the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In January, a group of six park rangers were ambushed and killed at Virunga. The park is home of about a third of the world’s mountain gorillas and has been subject to repeated attacks over the years from poachers, loggers, rebels, and militia groups. 

But it’s not all about gorillas. In Kenya, the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which runs a rescue center for elephants, received an unusual $10,000 rise in donations last weekend. The trust’s head Aime Alde told the Guardian that they were “extremely thankful” for the new supporter’s base. They now have 90 elephants in their care and it can get very expensive. 

For Leif Cocks, head of the Australia’s Orangutan Project, which also received donations, philanthropy was partly motivated by a sense of empathy and compassion. “What we find in conservation is that you talk about climate change – very little interest. Talk about rainforest conservation – a little bit more interest. You talk about an individual orangutan and that’s what best seems to connect with people,” he told The Guardian.

Earlier this month, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) published a report warning over strong cuts in conservation efforts in Africa and Asia amid the pandemic. With a lower budget, national parks and conservation organizations have laid off park rangers and reduced activities such as anti-poaching patrols. 

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