Runners put on gorilla suits to raise money for primates

Lauren Giudice

More than 700 runners departed from Austin City Hall for a 5K on Saturday, but this was not your normal race.

The first Austin Gorilla Run benefited the endangered mountain gorillas in Africa by raising more than $40,000, said Unji Udeshi, race director and co-founder. The participants ran the 3.1 miles in gorilla suits, Udeshi said.

“The Mountain Gorilla Conservation Fund is dedicated to the conservation and protection of the highly endangered mountain gorillas in Africa, their habitat and working with the people around the national parks,” Udeshi said.

The money will go directly to the Mountain Gorilla Conservation Fund, helping expand the wildlife department in Makerere University in Uganda and train locals in Central Africa on wildlife conservation.

In the late 1980s, there were only 250 mountain gorillas living in the wild. Because of the fund, there are now more than 700, and none are in captivity, Udeshi said.

“Mountain gorillas are one of our closest relatives, sharing 98.6 percent of our nuclear DNA,” Udeshi said. “This makes them the closest link to mankind, and as a group, we are trying to help save these animals from extinction.”

Paul Underbrink, who has run a lot of 5Ks, including the “Keep Austin Weird Fest and 5K,” said he enjoyed seeing all the variations of the gorilla costumes.

“This is definitely a weird event,” said Underbrink, who dressed as a gorilla in UT paraphernalia and attended the event with his wife, Sherri. “I enjoy the opportunity to get out and run in a good race, and the weather cooperated. You see events like this every now and then reported and you think, ‘I could do that.’ I heard this was the first one they were doing and there were a bunch of people signed up and I thought, ‘Okay, sign me up.’”

Saleswoman Adrienne Nelson attended the event with friends who were dressed as ballerinas.
“I participated in the Capitol 10,000,” Nelson said. “People dress up and do group costumes, but I think this is the craziest 5K Austin’s ever seen.”

Although participants paid $99.95 if they needed a gorilla suit and $50 if they already had one, Nelson said the organization is doing good work.

“It’s expensive, but it goes to save the gorillas,” Nelson said. “And outside the age of three, when do you get to dress up as a gorilla in a tutu? That’s really the cherry on top.”