Group of rare gorillas cited in Nigeria with babies
London, July 9, 2020 (AltAfrica)-WCS has released the first-known camera-trap images of a group of rare Cross River gorillas with multiple babies in Nigeria’s Mbe mountains, proof that the subspecies once feared to be extinct is reproducing amid protection efforts.
Only around 300 Cross River gorillas were known to be alive at one point in the isolated mountainous region in Nigeria and Cameroon, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society, which captured the camera trap images in May. More color images were recovered last month.
Once presumed extinct in Nigeria and only “rediscovered” in the late 1980’s, approximately 100 Cross River gorillas live in Nigeria in three contiguous sites in Cross River State – the Okwangwo Division of Cross River National Park (Okwangwo), Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary and the Mbe Mountains community forest.
The photographs have understandably generated a lot of excitement among Cross River gorilla conservation stakeholders. Professor John Oates, lead author of the first Cross River gorilla action plan in 2007 said: “It is wonderful to see images of gorillas from the Mbe Mountains that show so many young animals, indicating that the population there is in good health.
“Back in the early 1970s it was widely thought that gorillas were extinct in Nigeria, but work subsequently initiated by the Cross River State Government, and later supported and expanded by WCS and local communities, has clearly held the line and given hope for the long-term survival of these primates.”
Inaoyom Imong, Director of WCS Nigeria’s Cross River Landscape said: “It is extremely exciting to see so many young Cross River gorillas – an encouraging indication that these gorillas are now well protected and reproducing successfully, after previous decades of hunting. While hunters in the region may no longer target gorillas, the threat of hunting remains, and we need to continue to improve the effectiveness of our protection efforts.”
The Mbe Mountains forest, which is home to about a third of the Nigeria gorilla population, and provide an important link between Afi Mountain and Okwangwo, have been managed jointly by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Conservation Association of the Mbe Mountains as a community wildlife sanctuary since 2005.
A team of 16 eco-guards recruited from the surrounding communities, trained and employed by WCS conducts daily law enforcement patrols of the sanctuary to protect gorillas and other wildlife. In addition to protection, WCS works with the local communities to raise awareness of conservation and improve livelihoods.
Chief Damian Aria, Village Head of Wula I, said: “Seeing these photos of Cross River gorillas with many infants makes me very happy because they tell me that the population is increasing. I feel honored to be part of the efforts that are producing these results and I commend WCS for their support to protect the natural resources God has blessed us with.”
Otu Bernard A. Eban, Clan Head of Abo Clan, said: “Seeing this today rekindles my hope that our communities will benefit from ecotourism in the future. We will further strengthen our local laws to protect Cross River gorillas in the Mbe Mountains. I wish to take this opportunity to appeal to our partners to support us more to find sustainable economic alternatives to bushmeat hunting and other activities that destroy our forest.”