Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Protecting the great ape

An ape. Great An ape. Great Whitley Fund for Nature
27 May
2015
In Nigeria, critically endangered gorillas are getting a lifeline, by virtue of a conservation project providing safe passage between two protected areas

Southeastern Nigeria is home to some of the most immense biodiversity in Africa. The tropical montane forests in this part of the continent spread far and wide across the Mbe Mountains, which run close to the border of Cameroon.

Two designated protected areas in this region are the Cross River National Park and the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary, both of which are home to the critically-endangered Cross River gorilla. There are less than 300 such animals left in existence, making them the most threatened ape in all of Africa.

Traditionally, these gorilla populations would cover the whole Mbe Mountain region, and so the gorillas are naturally drawn to crossing the entire area. But the separation of the region into different parks has left gorilla populations increasingly isolated from each other. Attempting to navigate the narrow corridor between the Cross River National Park and the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary has proved a dangerous activity for them to undertake – with this unprotected region also a hotspot for hunters catching animals for the illegal bushmeat trade.

‘Protecting and maintaining this corridor is critical for the overall survival of the population,’ Inaoyom Imong, Director of the Cross River Gorilla Landscape Project, emphasises to Geographical. ‘They need to go across.’

Imong grew up in these forests, hunting with his father. ‘They’re my gorillas, it’s my forest,’ he says with a smile. ‘I was always super excited about the sheer diversity of the forest. My father would describe the different plants, their medicinal value, the animals and birds. I was really intrigued by all of these.’

After moving away to study Conservation Biology, he returned home to find the pressure of growing human populations had left the forests very different to how he remembered. ‘I was shocked to go back into the same forest where I used to hunt with my father and, due to hunting, could no longer see many of the animals I used to see commonly,’ he says. ‘At that point I felt like I needed to do something.’

The communities take extreme pride in having gorillas in their forests. They will brag to other communities that do not have gorillas in their forests

The growth of the illegal bushmeat trade (an estimated 900,000 reptiles, birds and mammals are sold each year for bushmeat around the Nigeria–Cameroon border) and the deforestation which accompanies local people’s subsistence farming, has resulted in a genuine threat to the continued existence of the Cross River gorilla. Imong hopes to change this.

Together with the Nigerian Wildlife Conservation Society, he began engaging with local communities to educate and motivate people about the potential environmental damages of hunting and deforestation, as well as the detrimental impact which it was having on the Cross River gorillas.

‘The really interesting thing here is that the communities take extreme pride in having gorillas in their forests,’ he explains. ‘They will brag to other communities that do not have gorillas in their forests. And they realise the forest is valuable, because they get a lot of products from there.’

Imong hopes his project can educate people about alternative sources of income. For example, people have been greatly encouraged by news about countries like Uganda and Rwanda, where investing in gorilla protection is making money for people from ‘gorilla tourism’.

‘I’m going to support the communities to make that happen,’ he continues. ‘But also to further strengthen law enforcement and increase the work that I’m already doing; raising awareness amongst the communities, taking school kids into the forest on field trips, giving them that experience in the forest. They are always excited when I take them into the forest and I point out all these things. They go back home to their parents and talk to them and there is increasing interest and support for conservation in this area.’

Securing the Mbe Mountain region as a community wildlife sanctuary, engaging local people, and creating patrols of eco-guards to enforce the new legislation, looks to be essential in ensuring the long-term survival of the Cross River gorilla. Then, Imong can legitimately aspire to future generations being able to enjoy the same wildlife forest experience he grew up with.

Inaoyom Imong is a winner of a 2015 Whitley Award, from the Whitley Fund for Nature

Related items

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Wildlife

A look at the contribution of hippos to the savannah…

Wildlife

The new app encourages young children to connect with the…

Energy

A type of panel has been invented that can generate…

Tectonics

In the 4th century BC, Aristotle proposed that earthquakes were…

Climate

The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management pledges to achieve net…

Tectonics

Earthquakes from time immemorial have attracted the attention of the…

Tectonics

A planned kayaking expedition in Nepal took on a whole…

Tectonics

Scientists from Bristol University are working in conjunction with EDF…

Tectonics

In the 1930s, Charles Richter developed a simple scale for…

Tectonics

Researchers at Colombia University have answered a question that has…

Tectonics

How prepared can any government or city be against a…

Tectonics

Benjamin Hennig creates a series of cartograms to demonstrate the…

Wildlife

Could grey seals singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star help develop…

Climate

Deep sea expert Dr Alex Rogers explains the importance of…

Oceans

Analysis of coral cores, extracted from coral reefs in the…

Wildlife

Celebrities and animal welfare groups have been expressing their disappointment…

Geophoto

In a series of photographs from his recent trip to…