Hope Still Alive for World's Rarest Gorillas

NEW YORK, New York, June 21, 2007 (ENS) - There are only 300 of them left, but scientists say the situation of the world's rarest great ape is far from hopeless.

Menaced by poachers and squeezed by habitat destruction, the Cross River gorilla, Gorilla gorilla diehli, is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The remaining gorillas are scattered in 11 locations along the mountainous border region between Cameroon and Nigeria.

Now a new action plan to save the sub-species is in the works, based on a coordinated conservation effort drafted by the IUCN-Species Survival Commission Primate Specialist Group, Conservation International, the City University of New York, and the Wildlife Conservation Society, WCS, based at New York's Bronx Zoo.

"Although the situation looks dire for the Cross River gorilla, it is far from hopeless," said Dr. James Deutsch, director of the WCS Africa Program. "At first glance, the population seems to be fragmented, but we have evidence of occasional migrations between some of the locations, a finding that improves the prospects for saving these gorillas."

Only 300 Cross River gorillas remain in the wild. (Photo courtesy GRASP)
The Regional Action Plan for the Conservation of the Cross River Gorilla, the report is the result of a workshop held last year in Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria. It presents an assessment of these gorillas and a series of recommended actions for governmental agencies, conservation groups.

Gorillas can be targeted by bushmeat hunters, and genetic analysis of the population reveals a reduction in numbers over the last 200 years that is most likely due to hunting.

The fragmentation of their forest habitat is caused by farming, road-building, and the burning of forests by pastoralists.

"If enacted, this program will serve as a strong foundation for Cross River gorilla conservation through a series of local and regional partnerships and activities," said Dr. John Oates of Hunter College of the City University of New York, the lead author of the action plan.

The report recommends cooperative, landscape-based planning between conservation managers across the Cameroon-Nigeria border.

The authors indicate that raising awareness of the uniqueness of the Cross River gorilla and conservation in general would be useful.

They envision involving government agencies, NGOs, and local people in community-based conservation activities. including a new ecotourism program that benefits conservation and at the same time minimizes potential impacts on the gorillas.

The report recommends improving both existing legislation and law enforcement in the Cross River gorilla’s range.

It advises upgrading the infrastructure and management of existing protected areas and establishing new protected areas, with a number of site-specific recommendations.

The estimated cost of implementing the actions recommended in the plan approaches $4.6 million over a five year period.

"The governments of Nigeria and Cameroon have already laid some of the groundwork for this transboundary conservation effort, Oates said, "and we’ve already secured about one-third of the funding needed for the action plan through government and donor support."

Efforts benefiting Cross River gorillas will serve to protect their habitat, which is one of Africa’s biodiversity hotspots, a region rich in a high diversity of animal and plant species, the conservation partners say. Other primates that share the same habitat include the drill, Preuss’s guenon, and chimpanzees.

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