Only 300 Cross River gorillas (Gorilla gorilla diehli) are left in the world, making them the most endangered gorilla subspecies to exist. Hunted to near extinction, these gorillas roam the steepest and most inaccessible mountain slopes at the border between Nigeria and Cameroon.
Usually, conservationists indirectly detect the gorilla’s presence from nests, dung, and feeding trails, but a camera trap in the Mbe Mountains, Nigeria, has caught a never-before-seen group of the great apes on film. Even more excitingly, the gang contained several infant gorillas of different ages.
“It is extremely exciting to see so many young Cross River gorillas – an encouraging indication that these gorillas are now well protected and reproducing successfully, after previous decades of hunting,” Inaoyom Imong, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society Nigeria’s Cross River Landscape, said in a statement. “While hunters in the region may no longer target gorillas, the threat of hunting remains, and we need to continue to improve the effectiveness of our protection efforts.”
Since 2005, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Conservation Association of the Mbe Mountains have managed the site where the gorillas were recently spotted as a community wildlife sanctuary. As well as employing local “eco-guards” to patrol the sanctuary and protect the gorillas, WCS also helps to raise awareness of the importance of conservation within the communities who live near to the gorilla’s habitat. This rare sighting of a Cross River gorilla group has been a welcome reminder to all of what their collaborative efforts are trying to preserve.
“I am very happy to see these wonderful pictures of Cross River gorillas with many babies in our forest,” Otu Gabriel Ocha, head chief of the surrounding village Kanyang I, said in a statement. “This shows that our conservation efforts in partnership with WCS are yielding fruits. I hope that we can continue these efforts so that we can pass the heritage to future generations.”
In the last decade, Cross River gorillas have rarely been sighted. However, a young male gorilla in 2017 was spotted outside of the protected area of Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary in close proximity to some villages. He was believed to have been searching for a mate from another gorilla group, allowing the gene pool of this critically endangered species to stay diverse. Whilst in the past this interaction may have felt threatening to humans, the increased awareness meant that “Ichi,” as he was named, was left alone.
Although Ichi was not part of the group snapped earlier this year, the babies show that there was still some mating success in the population.