Joseph Mulema loves gorillas. As an educator working in Cameroon, he is showing others how to care for gorillas, too. Joseph recently won the 2010 Charles Southwick Conservation Education Commitment Award for his work to conserve the wildlife within Africa’s forested highlands.

Presented by the International Primatological Society, the award recognizes people who significantly contribute to conservation education in countries with primate habitat. The primate Joseph is helping to save is the Cross River gorilla, the rarest of all great apes. Fewer than 300 of these gorillas remain, and the population is restricted to southwestern Cameroon and Nigeria.

Poaching and habitat destruction from extensive agriculture and logging operations threaten the long-term survival of the gorilla. Increased development has divided the Cross River gorilla’s habitat, which is already sparse, into isolated blocks.

Armed with films, radio broadcasts, games, and school handbooks that promote saving and co-existing with the endangered ape and other species, Joseph traveled throughout the Gulf of Guinea and tailored his conservation message to each place he visited. In addition to Cross River gorillas, the region is home to the rare Pruess’s guenon, drills, the most endangered type of chimpanzee, and more than 500 kinds of birds.

“Joseph is an inspiration,” said James Deutsch, director for WCS-Africa. “His work with dozens of remote, forest-dependent communities and 34 schools has resulted in widespread community support for protected areas such as Takamanda National Park and the Kagwene Gorilla Sanctuary.”

Joseph’s dedication to primate conservation was evident before he began working for WCS’s Takamanda-Mone Landscape Project in 2006. Previously, he was the education coordinator at the Limbe Wildlife Center. The center takes in orphaned and injured animals, such as western lowland gorillas, chimpanzees, mandrills, Nile crocodiles, snakes, and African grey parrots. Most of their inhabitants are the victims or orphans of the illegal wildlife and bushmeat trades.

Working closely with WCS staff in both Cameroon and Nigeria, Joseph has fostered collaboration across the border. His efforts along with those of other conservationists helped in the 2008 establishment of Takamanda National Park and Kagwene Gorilla Sanctuary. Joseph continues to educate communities that are dependent on forests to manage their resources. Currently, he is working to teach local conservation leaders nominated as “Gorilla Guardians” how to monitor Cross River gorilla populations.

Watch a video of Cross River gorillas foraging for figs in Cameroon’s Kagwene Gorilla Sanctuary >>