Cross River gorilla program

In summer 2009 the Zoo de La Palmyre took part in Year of the Gorilla, a huge international conservation campaign aiming on the one hand to raise awareness among the public about the various threats to long-term gorilla survival, and on the other to raise funds to protect the species. The €13,000 raised by the zoo were given to the conservation program for Cross River gorillas (Gorilla gorilla diehli), listed as critically endangered on the IUCN’s Red List because it numbers less than 300 in the wild.

This sub-species of the western gorilla lives in a mountainous area straddling the border between Cameroon and Nigeria. Its decline is due to increasing habitat loss and the upswing in hunting. Fragmentation of the forests is isolating groups from one another, making exchanges almost impossible. Also, the building of roads for logging or to open up remote villages has made it easier for hunters to get into the forests. Intensive hunting has caused a brutal fall in gorilla numbers. Today they survive only in steep areas that are extremely hard to get to. Their adaptability to this difficult terrain and the inaccessibilty of the region, as well as certain taboos about the eating or sale of their meat, mean that these 300 specimens are not endangered for the moment, but how long will this last?

The Wildlife Conservation Society has managed conservation of Cross River gorillas in Cameroon and Nigeria since 2001. Most of La Palmyre’s financial support goes the Nigerian component of the program.

The program in Nigeria
This focuses on an area in the heart of the Mbe mountains halfway between 2 official reserves, the Cross River National Park in the east and the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary in the west. The region has a population of about 30 gorillas, surrounding by 9 communities totalling nearly 12,000 people. Eleven eco-wardens from surrounding villages have the task of gathering data about the gorillas and organising anti-hunting patrols. Their work consists mainly of destroying hunters’ snares and camps discovered in the forest. Thanks to a satellite tracking system, the wardens can also assess the animals’ distribution and movements and evaluate threats to the population.

[1]Union Internationale pour la Conservation de la Nature.
[2]Wildlife Conservation Society.

Photo credit: © A. Nicholas, A. Dunn, I. Imong, N. Lankester, WCS.