November 29, 2008

Cameroon Establishes Park For Endangered Gorilla

Cameroon has established a new national park that seeks to protect the world's rarest gorilla. Takamanda National Park, which borders Nigeria, is home to an estimated 115 endangered Cross River gorillas.

Experts believe the total population of the subspecies is less than 300.

The move coincides with an initial meeting in Rome of governments of 10 gorilla range states that seek to protect the endangered primates.

The Gorilla Agreement, finalized in June, includes all the countries where the various species and subspecies are found.

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) helped establish Cameroon's new park, and believes it will help curb the hunting and forest destruction that have brought the number of Cross River gorillas to such worrisome levels.  

"The government of Cameroon is to be commended for taking this step in saving the Cross River gorilla for future generations," Steven Sanderson, president and CEO of WCS, told BBC News.

"By forming this national park, Cameroon sends a powerful message about the importance of conservation."

Gorillas will be able to move freely between Takamanda National Park and Nigeria's Cross River National Park, helping to repair the habitat fragmentation of habitat that can isolate small populations of wildlife.

Concerned about falling gorilla populations, environmental groups and governments initiated a process two years ago aimed at establishing a conservation deal among the nations where the animals live. The resulting consensus, known as the Gorilla Agreement, was formulated under the UN Convention on Migratory Species (CMS).

Member governments have pledged to co-operate to protect the gorillas' habitat, contain the spread of the Ebola virus, raise awareness of gorilla conservation and reduce conflict between animal and human populations.

The ten member nations will hold their initial meeting in Rome on Saturday.

"Getting the agreement signed was a great conservation achievement," David Greer, co-coordinator of the WWF's African Great Apes Program, told BBC News.

"It is now time for action. Together, we will look specifically at what steps each government will take to ensure gorillas have a secure future in the wild - through direct conservation action in a way that also benefits local communities."

This is a critical part of the agreement.  For instance, an estimated 15,000 people make a living from the fauna and flora of the Takamanda forest.   Without their involvement in conservation efforts, the downward slide of Cross River gorillas would not likely be stopped.

Other threats, including conflict resolution, would ideally be addressed under the agreement. 

Unrest in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has resulted in armed conflict in Virunga National Park, rendering conservation impossible and raising the risk of primates being shot for food.

A coalition of organizations, including the UN Environment Program and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, declared 2009 the "ËœYear of the Gorilla' in an attempt to further raise awareness about the animals.


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