DAKAR, Senegal – Conservationists have captured the first images of a group of rare cross-river gorillas with multiple cubs in the Mbe Mountains of Nigeria, evidence that species once threatened extinction are being reproduced amid conservation efforts.
At one point in the isolated highlands of Nigeria and Cameroon, about 300 cross-river gorillas were reported to be alive, the Wildlife Conservation Society said, capturing images of camera traps in May. More colorful images were recovered last month.
Emeritus, a professor at New York City University, and John Oates, a primatologist who helped establish gorilla conservation efforts more than two decades ago, were interested in the new image.
“It’s good to see evidence that these gorillas are successfully reproducing in these mountains because very few pictures have been found in the past,” he told the Associated Press. “We know very little about what’s going on with this sub-species in terms of breeding, so seeing a lot of young animals is a positive sign.”
Experts do not know how many cross river gorillas have remained in the mountain cluster and have been trying to track the subspecies for some time.
About 50 cameras were installed in 2012, and multiple images were captured at Cameroon’s Kagvin Gorilla Sanctuary and Nigeria’s Mbe Mountain Community Forest and Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary. But the cross river gorillas are notorious for capturing together on camera and no image captured more than one child.
An association of nine indigenous peoples, the Mbe Mountain Conservation Society, has been working with the Wildlife Conservation Society to help protect the Cross River gorillas since the mid-1990s. There have been no record deaths in Nigeria since then, the society said.
Andrew Dunn, the society’s country director for Nigeria, said at one point the gorilla was thought to be extinct.
“It’s a big success story that shows communities can protect their wildlife,” he told the AP.
Cross-river gorillas have been threatened for decades mainly by prey as well as habitat damage as farmers cut down forests for farming. The subspecies was “rediscovered” in the late 1980s.
About 100 cross-river gorillas have since been recorded in Nigeria’s Cross River State and about 200 in Cameroon in a transboundary area of about 200,000 square kilometers (4,633 square miles). The Mbe forest is home to about one-third of Nigeria’s population.
Gorillas are extremely shy of humans and their presence is mostly identified by their nests, dung and feeding paths, experts said.
A team of about 1 eco-guard from the surrounding community has been deployed to patrol and protect gorillas and other wildlife.
Inoom Imong, director of WCS Nigeria’s Cross River Landscape Project, said it was promising to see a few young gorillas in a group.
The new photos were taken in a community forest without any official protection status, Imong said, “an indication that we may have strong community support for conservation.”
Hunting has always been a major threat, he said, but “we believe hunting has declined drastically.” Conservation groups are also working to cut down forests illegally, he said.
But other dangers remain.
“Although hunters no longer target gorillas, traps set for other games are a threat to gorillas because children can get caught in them and possibly die in an injured condition,” Imong said. In Cameroon, conflict and insecurity as well as disease are a potential threat.
“Refugees from the ongoing insecurity in Cameroon are also moving to the region, and they will likely increase the pressure of hunting and the need for more land,” Dan said.
For now, they must rely on the work of the Nigerian community.
“I am proud to be a part of the ongoing effort to make these results,” said Damian Aria, head of the village of Oola. “
He told the AP that his community and others have worked hard to preserve the natural habitat of gorillas and are proud of their efforts.
“We are very happy that they are reproducing,” he said. While the livelihoods of the gorillas are important to nature, Aria is hopeful that the hill communities will benefit from the tourism that can bring them in time.
Carle Petes, Associated Press