Conservation of the Cross River gorilla
© A. Dunn, WCS
To promote the survival of cross river gorillas in Nigeria and Cameroon
The Cross River gorilla, Gorilla gorilla diehli, is the most threatened ape in Africa. The species’ small total remaining population size, its fragmentation across a large complex landscape and continuing threats to its survival from habitat destruction and hunting have resulted in its status as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Recent genetic evidence suggests that the Cross River gorilla population has undergone a marked reduction in size within the last 100-200 years, probably the result of the increasing availability and use of guns. Other factors contributing to this decline are habitat loss and fragmentation caused by the spread of agriculture and cattle-grazing. In 2007 a Regional Action Plan was produced to help ensure its survival.
The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Cross River gorilla project in Nigeria and Cameroon has four main components:
1. SUPPORT FOR PROTECTED AREA DEVELOPMENT: WCS is actively supporting the management of the three protected areas where Cross River gorillas are still found in Nigeria - the Mbe Mountains Community Wildlife Sanctuary, the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary and Cross River National Park. This support includes the provision of infrastructure such as ranger posts, boundaries and vehicules, training of park rangers and ecoguards, field equipment and the facilitation of management plans etc. In Cameroon, WCS has worked with government to create two new protected areas within the last 12 months - the Kagwene Gorilla Sanctuary and the Takamanda National Park. The Kagwene Gorilla Sanctuary is the first protected area created solely for the conservation of the Cross River gorilla. It is also the only site where long-term daily monitoring and research on the Cross River gorillas takes place. Takamanda National Park is at the heart of the Cross River gorilla landscape and is contiguous with the Okwangwo Division of Cross River National Park in Nigeria, forming a large protected area block that protects roughly 1/3 of the entire Cross River gorilla population.
2. LANDSCAPE LEVEL CONSERVATION ACTION: although protected areas provide a secure core for important species such as the Cross River gorilla they do not provide solutions to the need for genetic exchange between individuals in different sites or the importance of harmonizing conservation strategies between Nigeria and Cameroon. Recent genetic and spatial analyses carried out across the Cross River gorilla landscape have helped identify potential ‘corridor areas’ of natural habitat that may still be acting as bridges between ‘core’ protected areas. We are working to safeguard important habitat corridors and to establish a field-based transboundary protected area between the Okwangwo Division of Cross River National Park and Takamanda in Cameroon.
3. RESEARCH: The Wildlife Conservation Society is proud of its reputation as a science based conservation organization and all of our important field based actions are grounded by baseline studies and ongoing monitoring. In many cases, the lead that we take in assessing large mammal abundances, undertaking focal studies on the status and distribution of key species like the Cross River gorilla or Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee, multi-taxa biodiversity overview surveys, socio-economic studies, habitat analyses and other ecological studies have provided arguments that have helped us lobby for the creation of protected areas.
4. CONSERVATION EDUCATION: In both Nigeria and Cameroon our conservation education programs have gradually expanded from a simple school-based program to include other activities, such as community meetings, radio programs, and film. Film is a very important media for passing on messages and we work very closely with the Great Apes Film Initiative to broadcast their programs widely and we have also started producing our own films at local level, an approach that has obvious appeal. Community meetings are designed to create awareness, generate interest, and elicit support and cooperation for conservation. In Nigeria, our education program now includes all three sites where Cross River gorillas are known to occur and covers approximately 75 human communities. Using the local FM radio station we have produced and broadcast a number of radio programs focused on wildlife conservation in the Bokyi language. In Cameroon, education programs have centered on both Takamanda National Park and the Kagwene Gorilla Sanctuary, but we have plans to expand conservation education activities to villages adjacent to the more remote and unprotected Cross River gorilla sites as part of our community-based ‘Gorilla Guardian’ network. The successes of this program are being widely recognized, in 2008 Joseph Mulema, our Conservation Education Coordinator in Cameroon was awarded the prestigious Disney Conservation Foundation Hero award.
Our goal is to maintain a long-term presence throughout the range of the Cross River gorilla, to work with government departments, other organizations and local communities to learn more about the biology of the gorillas, monitor their populations, develop a network of effective protected areas, and maintain connections between gorilla populations; and through these actions to increase the long term size and viability of the Cross River gorilla population as a whole.
WAZA Conservation Project 08010 is implemented by the Wildlife Conservation Society (Bronx Zoo), and supported by the Great Ape Conservation Fund (US Fish and Wildlife Service), African Great Apes Programme (WWF), KfW (German Development Bank), Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation, North Carolina Zoo, Arcus Foundation, Columbus Zoo, the Great Ape Trust of Iowa (Iowa Zoo), Kolmarden Zoo, Zoo Boise, Berggorilla and Regenwald Direkthilfe, Quadra Foundation, Taronga Foundation, Donald Manocherian, ProWildlife and UNEP/GRASP.
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© A. Dunn, WCS