The great apes of western Africa face many threats, from habitat destruction to disease. But tucked within central Cameroon lies a relatively small pocket of forest, where gorillas can more or less just be gorillas: Deng Deng National Park.

WCS scientists have been surveying the area since 2002, and a recent WCS census found a healthy population of 300 to 500 western lowland gorillas living within the reserve’s 224 square miles and in an adjacent logging concession. The group represents the world’s northernmost population of these gorillas.

Despite living in relative harmony, the gorillas did not line up neatly to be counted. Instead, WCS researchers tallied up the apes’ nests to estimate their populations. The census found that the gorillas move freely between the park and the logging area, along with many of their neighbors—chimpanzees, forest elephants, buffaloes, and bongo.
Unfortunately, a road runs through the two areas, paving the way to poaching threats from outside.

“Protecting this gorilla population, and guaranteeing its future,” said James Deutsch, director of WCS-Africa, “absolutely requires protecting the gorillas in the logging concession as well as in the park.”

Cameroon created Deng Deng National Park in 2010. The density of gorillas found within the park rival those of Gabon's Lopé National Park and Congo's Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park, two places that are famous for their apes. Part of the reason Deng Deng is so special is that the gorillas that live there are isolated from others of their kind. This would help shield them in the event of an Ebola outbreak, which has occurred in other regions to the south.

“For a small area, this is an extremely important site for gorilla conservation,” said Roger Fotso, director of WCS-Cameroon. “It is also important because this is the northern-most population of western lowland gorillas, and because it is accessible to the capital Yaoundé and so a possible future site for tourism.”