The Cross River gorilla, the world’s most endangered great ape, now has more room to roam. The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the Government of Cameroon, and other partners have collaborated to create a new national park to help protect the population in Cameroon.
The new park known as Takamanda links up with Nigeria’s Cross River National Park. Across its span of 261 square miles, it safeguards an estimated 115 gorillas—a third of the Cross River gorilla population. In addition, the park will protect forest elephants, chimpanzees, and drills—another rare primate and a close relative of the better-known mandrill. Trans-boundary protected areas allow species to roam freely between countries.
The creation of Takamanda National Park represents many years of work led by WCS and the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife in Cameroon. These efforts have included baseline surveys of gorillas and other large mammals, meetings and agreements with local communities, recommendations for upgrading the reserve to park status, and the establishment of trans-boundary activities with the Okwangwo Division of Cross River National Park.
“The Government of Cameroon is to be commended for taking this step in saving the Cross River gorilla for future generations,” said Dr. Steven E. Sanderson, president and CEO of WCS. “By forming this national park, Cameroon sends a powerful message about the importance of conservation.”
The Cross River gorilla is the rarest of the four gorilla subspecies. Other subspecies include western lowland gorillas, eastern lowland or “Grauer’s” gorillas, restricted to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and mountain gorillas, made famous by Dian Fossey and George Schaller. Earlier this year, WCS scientists discovered more than 125,000 western lowland gorillas in the northern Republic of Congo. WCS is the only conservation group working to safeguard the four subspecies, all of which are classified as “critically endangered” or “endangered” by the IUCN Red List.
Habitat destruction and poaching represent the biggest threats to Cross River gorillas. Farming, road-building, and forest burning by pastoralists have fragmented their forest habitat. Gorillas are also targeted by hunters of bushmeat in the region.
Primary support for the creation of Takamanda comes from a funding partnership between the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife and the German Development Bank. The initiative was also supported by the World Wildlife Fund, the German Development Service, and the German Technical Cooperation.
WCS has a long history in Cameroon, which began with our scientists’ appointment as technical advisors at Korup National Park in 1988. In partnership with the Cameroon Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife and CAMRAIL (the Cameroon Railways), WCS continues to play a critical role in enforcing regulations that ban transportation of bushmeat or any other wildlife products from remote locations to urban markets by local trains. This effort in part has helped Cameroon uphold its obligations as a member nation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
WCS’s conservation work in Central Africa was funded in part from admission fees to the Bronx Zoo’s Congo Gorilla Forest exhibit. Since the exhibit’s opening in 1999, it has raised more than $8.5 million for conservation in this region.