Excitement as pictures of the world’s rarest gorillas emerge from Nigeria

Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Calabar, Nigeria has released the first-known camera-trap images of a group of Cross River gorillas with several infants of different ages. The images were captured in the Mbe Mountains in Southern Nigeria.

Once presumed extinct in Nigeria and only ‘rediscovered’ in the late 1980’s, Cross River gorillas (Gorilla gorilla diehli) are the most endangered gorilla subspecies, numbering around 300 individuals and found only in an isolated region along the Nigeria/Cameroon border. They are rarely seen, let alone photographed, even by remote cameras.
Previously, camera traps at WCS sites in Cameroon and Nigeria have captured just a few images including one in 2012 in Cameroon’s Kagwene Gorilla Sanctuary showing one member of the group missing a hand likely due to a snare injury. These recent images record multiple infants in the same group for the first time.

Extremely shy of humans due to a long history of persecution, Cross River gorillas live in the most rugged and inaccessible parts of the mountain range. Their presence can be detected mainly by indirect signs such as nests, dung and feeding trails. They are distributed patchily over a mountainous, forested landscape spanning some 12,000 square kilometers across the trans-boundary region of Cross River Nigeria and Takmanda-Mone Cameroon.

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 Mbe Mountains forest, which is home to about a third of the Nigeria gorilla population provides an important link between Afi Mountain and Okwangwo. It is managed jointly by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Conservation Association of the Mbe Mountains as a community wildlife sanctuary since 2005.

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.”

In February 2020, WCS outreach and livelihood support work with local communities was temporarily suspended but wildlife protection patrols have continued, in line with their COVID-19 response country action plan, to provide continued effective protection for the gorillas.

WCS Nigeria Country Director, Andrew Dunn said to Eyes of a Lagos Boy, “These pictures tell me that the work we have been doing for the past 20 years has not been in vain, that we are on the right track.” Dunn, highlights that conservation needs the collaborative efforts and  support of local communities to succeed. “We are also seeing more young people in Nigeria who want to make conservation their chosen career, and this gives me hope for the future.”

WCS in Nigeria

The Wildlife Conservation Society WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education and inspiring people to value nature. WCS work in 60 countries across the globe to support conservation with local, national, and international stakeholders. WCS is undertaking management and conservation of a network of key protected area strongholds across the Sudano-Sahel Region of Africa including in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic and South Sudan. With its country office based in Calabar, Southern Nigeria, WCS has been working in Nigeria since 2001, and currently supports the conservation of four protected areas in Cross River State
and the Yankari Wildlife Reserve in Bauchi State.

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