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Hunted almost to extinction fewer than 300 Cross River gorillas survive in nine sites within a small mountainous area of about 12,000 km² at the headwaters of the River Cross straddling the border between Nigeria and Cameroon. A flagship species for conservation efforts in the region, the Cross River gorilla Gorilla gorilla diehli is the most threatened ape in Africa. In Nigeria, Cross River gorillas are known from three areas of Cross River State: Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary, the Mbe Mountains and the Okwangwo Division of Cross River National Park. Most gorillas are found in rugged areas of lowland and submontane forest at elevations from 400 to 2,000 m where human disturbance and hunting pressure is reduced. Classified as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List.
Cross River gorillas were formerly more widespread and abundant than they are today, the result of hunting and habitat loss. Although hunting has been reduced in recent years, the loss of even a few individuals to poaching represents a major threat to the long-term viability of the population. Cross River gorillas may not be specifically targeted by hunters, but the widespread use of wire snares set to trap small mammals, represents a threat to their survival. For such a small fragmented population, habitat loss and fragmentation are further reducing connectivity between sites, increasing their isolation from one another and reducing opportunities for gene flow. Despite the small size and fragmented nature of the population the genetic variability of this population is still relatively high and there is evidence to suggest that gorillas do occasionally move between sites using corridors of suitable habitat. Furthermore, many of the known gorilla strongholds are still surrounded by large areas of unoccupied forest and there is strong hope that the existing gorilla population could expand in the future if such areas can be protected from hunting.
Creation of Protected Areas WCS supported the creation of new protected areas for Cross River gorillas including Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary (2000), Takamanda National Park (2008) and Kagwene Gorilla Sanctuary (2008).
Law Enforcement and Protected Area Management. There is little wildlife left in Nigeria today outside of protected areas, providing support to strengthen the management of these areas is the main focus of WCS in Nigeria. For unless we improve law enforcement within protected areas, and reduce levels of hunting, logging, livestock grazing and encroachment, wildlife will not survive in Nigeria.
Community Conservation. WCS fully recognizes that it is essential to involve local people in conservation efforts to save Cross River gorillas. In the Mbe Mountains we are working with nine local communities to secure local land tenure rights and in Afi Mountain Wildlife sanctuary we are working to create a network of gorilla guardians with the communities bordering the sanctuary.
Conservation Education and Raising Levels of Awareness within local communities is essential for long-term success and a vitally important part of our work. Our conservation education outreach program is based around school conservation clubs which includes regular field trips and exchange visits. Our outreach program also includes the highly popular weekly radio drama show My Gorilla My Community and the use of wildlife film shows to spread conservation messages within the area.
Alternative livelihoods are promoted to reduce pressure on endangered species and the remaining forests. WCS provides training to boost local incomes and to reduce levels of dependence on the forest and on hunting. Our approach currently focuses on helping make existing cocoa farms more sustainable and reducing rates of forest loss in key corridor areas, as well as bee keeping, goat husbandry and the rearing of African giant snails. An important part of our approach involves working with women’s groups to improve the value of bush mango.