Rare Cross River Gorilla Caught On Camera
May 9, 2012

Rare Cross River Gorilla Caught On Camera

Brett Smith for RedOrbit.com

A system of video camera traps set by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has captured evidence of the Cross River gorilla, a notoriously reclusive and endangered species of primate.

“The video represents the best images to date of Cross River gorillas, normally shy animals that flee at the slightest hint of human presence,” said WCS director Christopher Jameson.

“The footage provides us with our first tantalizing glimpses of Cross River gorillas behaving normally in their environment. A person can study these animals for years and never even catch a glimpse of the gorillas, much less see anything like this.”

One of the four cameras captured eight gorillas traveling through Cameroon´s Kagwene Gorilla Sanctuary for almost two minutes. The video shows the animals emerging from the forest and surveying the area, possibly aware of the camera´s presence. At one point, a male silverback gorilla charges past the camera while beating his chest. Another gorilla appears to be missing a hand, the possible result of a poacher´s snare.

According to the WCS, evidence of a snare-related injury should serve as both an alarm and a warning to those looking to protect these rare creatures.

“Cross River gorillas occur in very low densities across their entire range, so the appearance of a possible snare injury is a reminder that continued law enforcement efforts are needed to prevent further injuries to gorillas in the sanctuary,” said Liz Macfie, gorilla coordinator for WCS´s Species Program.

Government patrols have reduced hunting activities in the area since the establishment of the Kagwene Gorilla Sanctuary in 2008. The sanctuary, which measures almost 20 square kilometers in size and contains 20 to 30 gorillas, was created as a keystone in the effort to save the Cross River gorilla. It evolved out of the “Gorilla Guardian” network, created by WCS to improve gorilla survival prospects in the most vulnerable unprotected forest sites in Cameroon. The sanctuary is now managed by a three person staff, all appointed by Cameroon´s Ministry of Forests and Wildlife. The sanctuary also retains a team of local staff from the eight villages near the protected area. Kagwene is the only site where daily monitoring of Cross River gorilla movements takes place.

When researchers first confirmed gorilla´s presence in 2003, they quickly realized the potential of the area as a monitoring site due to the presence of a significant number of gorillas, relatively easy tracking conditions, and the interest of local communities in the gorilla´s conservation.

Cross River gorillas are considered ℠critically endangered´ and it is believed that the entire population is between 250 and 300 gorillas. They only live in the mountainous regions along the Nigeria—Cameroon border, where they exist in disjointed groups spread out over 12,000 kilometers. A 2007 genetic study and field surveys suggest that these groups are often linked by the migration of individual gorillas.

The major threats to their survival are habitat loss and poaching. While less than one percent of illegal poaching involves Great Apes, their smaller population means that they feel a greater proportional impact. The results of ape poaching also include the orphaning of younger apes, which are often illegally sold as pets.