There is another gorilla in our midst that needs saving. The Lebialem Highlands in Cameroon paint a very different picture when compared with the guided mountain gorilla treks of Rwanda and Uganda.
Deforestation is rife, tourism is nonexistent and Africa’s rarest great ape, the elusive Cross River gorilla, is at risk from population fragmentation. The good news is. this grim picture is slowly changing. In October 2017, the Cross River Gorilla Programme implemented its first wildlife corridor to connect isolated populations and promote gene flow between different areas.
The Tofala-Mone Rainforest Corridor connects gorilla populations in Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary through populations in Mone Forest Reserve with the gorillas in Takamanda National Park. The Tofala-Mone Rainforest Corridor is made up of four community forests.
It is estimated there are only 250 to 300 Cross River gorillas remaining
The aim is to sustainably manage community forests and create an industry for natural forest products like honey, forest fruits. spices and medicinal plants. which will benefit the local community while allowing the gorillas. and other endemic species. to move peacefully.
The Tofala-Mone Rainforest Corridor is working with the Bangwa, Mbo, Mundani and Mock local communities. The Cross River gorilla has totem status among the Cameroonians. They believe their direct ancestors are in the gorilla and therefore will not harm them.
“In one or two years we will see the effects of the current measures.” says Arend de Haas. conservation director of the African Conservation Foundation (ACF). Tofala-Mone Rainforest Corridor is the first step of a much larger programme, which aims to strategically link Cross River gorilla populations. There are currently 11 Cross River gorilla populations across eight different locations in the montane forests of Cameroon and Nigeria.
Cross River gorilla facts
- The human and gorilla common lineage split 10 million years ago
- The Cross River gorilla is a subspecies of the western lowland gorilla.
- The remaining Cross River gorilla population is estimated at 250-300.
- Cross River gorillas, like other primates, can contract the Ebola virus.
- Its native range is in Cameroon and Nigeria
Cameroon’s remaining gorillas have adapted to human encroachment by residing in smaller groups, one male with two to three females. De Haas explains smaller groups are more discreet and able to flee faster.
Cross River gorillas forage according to seasons, and this natural migration has been blocked by an increase in villages, agricultural lands and roads. “As a result, it is more difficult for them to find good food sources in all seasons, which has an effect on their health and reproduction rates,” says de Haas. Their diet consists of leaves, bark, herbs and fruits depending on availability.
Local subsistence farmers are increasingly relying on the Nigerian market for business. As a result, the demand for agricultural land has led to a surge in deforestation in the Cross River gorilla range.
The Lebialem Highlands is one of the oldest rainforests in Africa, forming a crucial biodiversity hotspot for not only Cross River gorillas but also Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees, drill monkeys and Bannerman’s turacos. The creation of more community forests will allow for a more viable population of Cross River gorillas, preventing them from crossing the proverbial Great Divide.
The Cross River Gorilla Programme is an African Conservation Foundation and Environmental and Rural Development Foundation initiative
Where Cross River gorillas occur
- Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary
- Cross River National Park
- Mbe Mountains
- Takamanda National Park
- Mawambi Hills
- Mone Forest Reserve (northern half)
- Mount Oko area
- Eastern Mone Forest Reserve
- Upper Mbulu
- Kagwene Gorilla Sanctuary
- Tofala Hills
Written by Georgina Lockwood
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