For the first time in years, a group of rare gorillas and their infants were spotted in the mountains of southern Nigeria.
New images of the animals were captured through camera traps set up by the Wildlife Conservation Society in the Mbe Mountains in Cross River.
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, the Cross River gorillas are the world’s rarest great ape. These primates inhabit the Cameroon-Nigeria border’s mountainous portions, and only less than 300 of these subspecies are believed to remain in the wild.
About a hundred of them are found in a patchwork of three neighboring areas: AMWS, the MBE mountains, and the Okwangwo division of Cross River National Park.
This subspecies can be distinguished from other species by their defining features, such as smaller heads, longer arms, and lighter-colored hair.
Extremely shy of humans, these gorillas are rarely seen or photographed as they live in the most rugged and most inaccessible parts of the range. Although federal and state laws protect them, their territory faces rising pressure from an ever-increasing human population.
While hunters generally target duikers, porcupines, rock hyraxes, and red river hogs in the area, they also occasionally go after the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes ellioti) and the drill (Mandrillus leucophaeus).
The extensive use of wire snares to catch smaller animals also posed a significant danger to the survival of gorillas. In 2010, an infant gorilla was trapped in a wire snare and caused its death.
In December 2019, the Wildlife Conservation Society reported that rangers removed 977 wire snares, destroyed three hunting camps, and captured at least nine hunters during the previous quarter. During these raids, they seized live cartridges, locally-made shotguns, machetes, and rolls of snare wire.
These practices heightened fears about the gorillas’ safety, especially after one of them was killed in 1998.
The last time a photo of these gorillas were captured was in 2012 in the Kagwene Gorilla Sanctuary in Cameroon.
“Previously, camera traps at WCS sites in Cameroon and Nigeria have captured just a few images, including one from 2012 in Cameroon’s Kagwene Gorilla Sanctuary showing one member of the group missing a hand likely from a snare injury.”
Inaoyom Imong, the director of Cross River Landscape for Wildlife Conservation Society Nigeria, said that this latest sighting proves that Cross River gorillas are “well protected and reproducing,” after being targeted by humans for decades. That’s the hope, at least, given that there are several infant gorillas visible in the shots taken earlier this year.
“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.”
The group has been working with several communities to safeguard the welfare of the gorillas. This partnership has paid off as there have been no reported deaths of these animals in Nigeria since 2012.
One of the people encouraged by this news is Gabriel Ocha, head chief of Kanyang – one of the villages near the Mbe Mountains. He said that the latest images prove that their conservation efforts with the Wildlife Conservation Society are yielding results.
“I am very happy to see these wonderful pictures of the Cross River gorillas with many babies in our forest,” he said.
This is such exciting news, especially for Cross River gorilla conservation stakeholders! Hopefully, these primates will continue to thrive in their habitat and remain undisturbed by ruthless hunters.