News Release

World’s Rarest Gorilla Gets New Roadmap for Survival

24 March 2014
Cross River Gorilla
Photo: Nicky Lankester

In spite of the continued threats of poaching and habitat destruction, future prospects for the world’s rarest gorilla have improved but are still dependent on continued local and international partnerships, according to a new action plan published by the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group and the Wildlife Conservation Society, and produced in partnership with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the North Carolina Zoo, and others.

A new report—titled Revised Regional Action Plan for the Conservation of the Cross River Gorilla: 2014-2019—cites a number of conservation achievements over the past several years, including the expansion of protected areas for the threatened great apes as well as an improved understanding of available gorilla range (more than twice the area previously determined). The report also recommends measures designed to help Cross River gorillas increase their numbers within and beyond core sites, and emphasizes the importance of local and international support for the success of conservation efforts.

“The outlook for the Cross River gorilla is encouraging, provided we build on past successes and continue with key partnerships to protect this great ape and its remaining habitat,” said Andrew Dunn, WCS conservationist and lead author of the report. “The new action plan provides a detailed roadmap for conserving the world’s rarest gorilla.”

Classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, the Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla ssp. diehli) numbers fewer than 300 individuals throughout its range, which is limited to a mountainous border region between Nigeria and Cameroon. The Cross River gorilla is the rarest of the four subspecies of gorilla.

The first action plan for Cross River gorillas—published in 2007—initiated the first coordinated conservation strategy using the Cross River gorilla as a “flagship” species as a means of protecting a region considered by many to be one of Africa’s biodiversity “hotspots.” Implementation of the action plan achieved many of its objectives, including the establishment of two new protected areas in Cameroon—Kagwene Gorilla Sanctuary and Takamanda National Park. The plan has also achieved significant gains through: increased community involvement in gorilla conservation in both Cameroon and Nigeria; improvements in wildlife laws and enforcement, particularly in the border region; more public awareness; and greater support from international agencies such as the Convention on Migratory Species and the Great Ape Survival Partnership.

Revision of the plan was initiated in 2012, when 42 experts from seven countries (including government wildlife authorities) met in Limbe, Cameroon to identify the challenges that remain. Specifically, the small size of the entire Cross River gorilla population puts the long-term survival of the subspecies at risk from poaching or a disease outbreak. The potential expansion of human settlements into Nigeria’s Cross River National Park and Cameroon’s Takamanda National Park is another threat, as is potential forest loss due to agricultural development between core sites.

The revised plan calls for: enhanced protection of the gorillas and enforcement of wildlife laws; continued research into the distribution and biology of Cross River gorillas; further implementation of community-based conservation models; new measures to protect vital corridors between gorilla sites; support for improved management of conservation areas; health monitoring and disease prevention; development of ecotourism; support for transboundary conservation; and expanding public awareness of conservation.

“While we have come a long way in ensuring the future survival of the Cross River gorilla, there is still a lot of work to do,” emphasized Dr. Richard Bergl of the North Carolina Zoo, one of the plan’s co-authors. “In particular, we need to explore new ways to conserve key habitat areas that currently have no formal protection.”

Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla ssp. diehli) Photo: WCSDirck Byler, Africa Program Officer of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, added: “Many of the gorilla populations still lie outside protected areas and national parks and will probably never be included in national parks. And so by working with local communities to curtail hunting and provide alternatives to hunting in many of these places, we think we can get a handle on stabilizing the population and even increasing it.”

 

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