In Cameroon, populations of Cross River gorillas can be found in the Lebialem Highlands: a biodiversity hotspot in one of the wettest places on earth. A new cluster of protected areas will protect Cross River Gorillas and an important watershed for the benefit of all Cameroonians.
Estimates on the number of Cross River gorillas (Gorilla gorilla diehli) remaining is 250–300 in the wild. Their range is very fragmented. Due to human population growth and agricultural encroachment, the gorillas are being forced into higher altitudes with steep slopes, unsuitable for farming.
The recent killing of a male Cross River Gorilla stressed the urgent need to intensify conservation efforts.
"The Taiwan's Forestry Bureau, through its Conservation Division, has been supporting great ape conservation at this new site since 2005", says Arend de Haas, director of the African Conservation Foundation. "Through a successful long-term partnership, grants were provided for an extensive conservation programme including surveys, forest surveillance, training and education".
The programme led to designating new proposed protected areas across the Lebialem Highlands Conservation Complex. This includes the proposed Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, Ellioti Chimpanzee Sanctuary, the Tofala-Mone Forest Corridor, Mt Bamboutos Integral Ecological Reserve, Nyi-tebong/Fuagonkem Hills and the Nkingkwa Hill Forest Reserve.
In 2010, with funding from Taiwan, the ARCUS Foundation and Flora and Fauna International, a process was launched to assist the Government of Cameroon to create the Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary. This process is on-going and is expected to be completed in 2013 with a Prime Ministerial Decree.
The Tofala Hill forest holds about 40 Cross River gorillas and up to 150 Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees, while the proposed corridor holds up to 20 Cross River gorillas and 100 Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees.
Current threats to the conservation of great apes, forest elephants, Drill monkeys and other endangered species in the region include forest conversion to farms, forest fragmentation and hunting for bushmeat.
"The main goal of our programme is to assist the government of Cameroon to implement a collaborative management strategy to support the long term survival of the great ape populations and other wildlife in the Lebialem Highlands." explains Louis Nkembi, director of the Environment and Rural Development Foundation.
The project partners are working close together with the local communities in the Lebialem Highlands, developing alternative income generating activities such as wildlife farming, beekeeping and an international volunteer programme. "Capacity building is key to the success of the project", declared Simon Kwemo, Senior Divisional Officer for Lebialem, in a recent project partners meeting.
Taiwan's aid has also been crucial for the design of a genetic corridor linking the Tofala gorillas with those of the Takamanda-Mone Forests, close to the border with Nigeria. Such a corridor is vital for the exchange of individuals between populations, which may help prevent the negative effects of inbreeding that often occurs within isolated groups.
Over 460 bird species have been recorded in the Lebialem Highlands region, among which 50 species are endemic to the afro-montane highlands and 15 species are globally threatened.
The low to mid-level elevation has some endangered primates as the Drills and the Preuss guenon, as well as the critically endangered Cross River gorilla – the rarest of the gorilla sub-species – and Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees also the most endangered chimpanzee subspecies in Africa, with a population numbering less than 6000.
The African Conservation Foundation would like to take this opportunity to thank the Taiwan Forestry Bureau which presented the eighth International Conservation Grant in support of the Cross River Gorilla conservation programme.
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A male Cross River Gorilla has been shot earlier this month in the Lebialem Highlands near Pinyin in the Santa Sub Division of North West Cameroon.
The presence of this silverback gorilla was reported by a local teacher who was going to her farm very early in the morning on March 1st 2013 at about 1 km away from the village. Pinyin is about 33 km from the proposed Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary.
"The killing of this over 40-year silver-back was ordered by the Chief of Gendarmerie Brigade based in Pinyin", according to Neba Bedes, wildlife expert working for the Environment and Rural Development Foundation (ERuDeF), "It was done in the name of "self-defense" without conducting the necessary security checks to determine whether this critically endangered animal is causing any danger to the local people.
It is alleged that over 45 bullets were used as well as clubs and stones to kill the gorilla, leaving it in a pool of his own blood.
The death of this silverback gorilla remains a very big loss not just to Cameroon and local conservation efforts, but to the conservation world at large. Cross River Gorillas are Africa's rarest and most threatened ape and it belongs to the world's 25 most threatened wildlife species. Only about 300 of them survive in the Nigeria-Cameroon border region.
The Regional Delegate for Forestry and Wildlife for the North West Region regretted the loss of this protected human cousin and re-iterated the efforts of her ministry to increase the community sensitization in the border areas of the Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary.
Since 2004, the African Conservation Foundation has been working together with ERuDeF on the creation of this very important great apes sanctuary, which is home to about 40 Cross River Gorillas and over 150 Nigeria-Cameroon Chimpanzees, as well as a range of other endangered species of fauna and flora.
The presence of the silverback gorilla about 33km away from the proposed sanctuary is proof that the Tofala Gorillas are not isolated and still maintain a genetic connection with other Cross River Gorilla sub populations in South West Cameroon.
Only a very small number of Cross River Gorillas have been sighted in Tofala. The most recent sighting was on the February 24 2013 by the Divisional Officer for Wabane Sub Division in Besali forest on his way to Menji.
The migration of this killed silverback is also proof of the intense human pressure that the remaining gorillas in the Tofala forests are facing. This pressure includes very high forest conversion to farms and poaching.
ERuDeF and its partners are thus urging the Government of Cameroon to speed up the Process to complete the creation of the Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary and the other proposed sites in the Lebialem Highlands Conservation Complex.
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Conservationists working in Cameroon's Kagwene Gorilla Sanctuary have collected the first camera trap video footage of the Cross River gorilla.
The extremely rare recording was made by a camera triggered by motion sensors.
You can see the silverback male gorilla running through the group, displaying chest beating. Researchers of WCS suggest he may have been aware of the camera.
Cross River gorillas are very rare and elusive. The shy animals usually flee when they see humans, as they have been heavily hunted.
With fewer than 250 individuals remaining, Cross River gorillas are the world's rarest gorilla and threatened by extinction.
Environmental clubs of schools in Mak-Betchou and the Tofala areas made their mark in the celebrations of February 11, 2012 activities which had as theme 'Youths and participation in Major accomplishment for an emerging Cameroon'.
As part of the programme, the different clubs marched with placards and banners carrying varied environmental messages like 'Conserve our forests by reducing deforestation', 'Let's joins hands to conserve gorillas and chimpanzees', 'Fight climate change by planting trees' amongst others. Other clubs marched with green cards for the environment and drawings of some wildlife species they had done during their club activities.
The major highlight of this celebration was a drama acted in pidgin and English by the children of GHS Ngoh.This drama highlighted the resistance in some villages to stop hunting protected species and the consequences that befall them when they remain adamant to advice given by environmental specialists and conservationists.
The activities drew the attention of many who hitherto had no interest and information about the conservation status of wildlife species such as gorillas, elephants and chimpanzees found in their forests. Seeing children act out what happens in the environment was touching and confirms the fact that conservation education in schools is important in disseminating information and equally in training the next generation of conservation enthusiasts.
The activities were applauded by the administrative authorities in their speeches.
Source: ERuDef Newsletter - February 2012
By Atem Barry and Mahah Vladimire
Conservationists working in Central Africa to save the world's rarest gorilla have good news: the Cross River gorilla has more suitable habitat than previously thought, including vital corridors that, if protected, can help the great apes move between sites in search of mates, according to the North Carolina Zoo, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and other groups.
The newly published habitat analysis, which used a combination of satellite imagery and on-the-ground survey work, will help guide future management decisions for Cross River gorillas living in the mountainous border region between Nigeria and Cameroon.
The study appears in the online edition of the journal Oryx. The authors include: Richard A. Bergl of the North Carolina Zoo; Ymke Warren (deceased), Aaron Nicholas, Andrew Dunn, Inaoyom Imong, and Jacqueline L. Sunderland-Groves of the Wildlife Conservation Society; and John F. Oates of Hunter College, CUNY.
Efforts to save the Cross River gorilla, Africa's most endangered ape, received renewed hope after the United Nations (UN) recently approved $4 million to help Nigeria further promote conservation and sustainable forest management.
Environmentalists welcomed the news, which will help fund the country's National Programme for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) program, but warned that cooperation and education between all stakeholders, particularly local players, is key to preserving the species.
"Gorillas and chimps are protected by national and international law, but the reality is that that doesn't actually happen ... you have to have local buy-in," said CIFOR Associate Jacqueline Sunderland-Groves, co-author of Remote Sensing Analysis Reveals Habitat, Dispersal Corridors and Expanded Distribution for the Critically Endangered Cross River gorilla Gorilla gorilla diehli.
Cross River gorillas live exclusively along the remote and mountainous Nigeria-Cameroon border, but their numbers are so few that they were once thought to be extinct in Nigeria. Illegal poaching for bushmeat and loss of habitat has left only around 300 individuals in the world, making forest conservation vital to their survival. Primates are particularly vulnerable to deforestation and hunting, given their large body size and slow reproductive rate.
A gorilla species that's been called Africa's most-endangered primate has found an advocate in a League City girl.
Berit Doolittle, 11, learned about the Cross River Gorilla from her mother Daniette Hunter, who home-schools her in League City. Wildlife advocates say this particular species inhabits just a small region along the border between Nigeria and Cameroon, and its numbers may be below 300.
"She saw there were only 300 left, and she said, 'What are we going to do?'" Hunter says. Between February and early May, Berit surprised her mother by zealously firing up a fund-raising campaign, going door-to-door in her neighborhood, reaching out-of-town families, and recruiting a third-grade class at Bay Area Charter School to help.
A now critically endangered group of gorillas had split off into its own subspecies about 17,800 years ago, say researchers, who concluded that the evolution of the animal, the Cross River gorilla, was shaped by ancient climate change and, more recently, humans.
Some 1.6 million years ago at the start of the Pleistocene Epoch, a common population of gorillas diverged into two species, western and eastern gorillas. Although the two species now live far from one another, they still look and behave quite similarly.
Based on their genetic work, Olaf Thalmann and Linda Vigilant of the University of Turku in Finland determine that the western species split into the Cross River and western lowland gorilla subspecies about 17,800 years ago. However, they found that some interbreeding continued until 420 years ago. Then, a century later, the number of Cross River gorillas plummeted sixtyfold.
A Cameroonian environmentalist group is lobbying for the establishment of a new national park at Cross River on the Nigerian border to protect a little known sub-species of gorillas only living there.
The Cross River Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli) is the least known critically endangered sub-species of gorillas, living in the forest of both sides of the Cameroon-Nigeria boarder in numbers of 250 individuals.
Now, the Cameroonian conservation and wildlife protection group ERUDEF is hoping the little exploited habitat of the gorilla sub-species may be set aside as a national park.
The Fossimondi region close to Cross River is a poorly explored area with large biodiversity, the group holds, saying it urgently needs protection to prevent from further encroachment. Here, the fauna of West and Central tropical Africa intermixes, making it a unique site because of many endemic species, an ERUDEF expedition had shown.
The group has already launched a "bio-monitoring" project of great apes in the little mapped Bechati-Fossimondi-Besali forest area, including the endemic gorillas and forest chimpanzees. The project has already revealed a unique behaviour of the local chimpanzees, which seemed to have copied the gorillas' habits of ground nesting.