Local and international support crucial to continued protection for Cross River gorilla according to revised conservation action plan

NEW YORK (March 20, 2014)—
In spite of the continued threats of poaching and habitat destruction, future prospects for the world’s rarest gorilla have improved but are still dependent on continued local and international partnerships, according to a new action plan published by the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group and the Wildlife Conservation Society, and produced in partnership with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the North Carolina Zoo, and others.

A new report—titled Revised Regional Action Plan for the Conservation of the Cross River Gorilla: 2014-2019—cites a number of conservation achievements over the past several years, including the expansion of protected areas for the threatened great apes as well as an improved understanding of available gorilla range (more than twice the area previously determined). The report also recommends measures designed to help Cross River gorillas increase their numbers within and beyond core sites, and emphasizes the importance of local and international support for the success of conservation efforts.

“The outlook for the Cross River gorilla is encouraging, provided we build on past successes and continue with key partnerships to protect this great ape and its remaining habitat,” said Andrew Dunn, WCS conservationist and lead author of the report. “The new action plan provides a detailed roadmap for conserving the world’s rarest gorilla.”

Classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the Cross River gorilla numbers fewer than 300 individuals throughout its range, which is limited to a mountainous border region between Nigeria and Cameroon. The Cross River gorilla is the rarest of the four subspecies of gorilla.

The first action plan for Cross River gorillas—published in 2007—initiated the first coordinated conservation strategy using the Cross River gorilla as a “flagship” species as a means of protecting a region considered by many to be one of Africa’s biodiversity “hotspots.” Implementation of the action plan achieved many of its objectives, including the establishment of two new protected areas in Cameroon—Kagwene Gorilla Sanctuary and Takamanda National Park. The plan has also achieved significant gains through: increased community involvement in gorilla conservation in both Cameroon and Nigeria; improvements in wildlife laws and enforcement, particularly in the border region; more public awareness; and greater support from international agencies such as the Convention on Migratory Species and the Great Ape Survival Partnership.

Revision of the plan was initiated in 2012, when 42 experts from seven countries (including government wildlife authorities) met in Limbe, Cameroon to identify the challenges that remain. Specifically, the small size of the entire Cross River gorilla population puts the long-term survival of the subspecies at risk from poaching or a disease outbreak. The potential expansion of human settlements into Nigeria’s Cross River National Park and Cameroon’s Takamanda National Park is another threat, as is potential forest loss due to agricultural development between core sites.

The revised plan calls for: enhanced protection of the gorillas and enforcement of wildlife laws; continued research into the distribution and biology of Cross River gorillas; further implementation of community-based conservation models; new measures to protect vital corridors between gorilla sites; support for improved management of conservation areas; health monitoring and disease prevention; development of ecotourism; support for transboundary conservation; and expanding public awareness of conservation.

“While we have come a long way in ensuring the future survival of the Cross River gorilla, there is still a lot of work to do,” emphasized Dr. Richard Bergl of the North Carolina Zoo, one of the plan’s co-authors. “In particular, we need to explore new ways to conserve key habitat areas that currently have no formal protection.”

Dirck Byler, Africa Program Officer of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, added: “Many of the gorilla populations still lie outside protected areas and national parks and will probably never be included in national parks. And so by working with local communities to curtail hunting and provide alternatives to hunting in many of these places, we think we can get a handle on stabilizing the population and even increasing it.”

“The government of Cross River State has been unrelenting in its efforts towards protecting our status as one of the world’s top 25 biodiversity hotspots and the survival of the Cross River Gorilla serves as a benchmark for the success of our efforts in this regard,” said Senator Liyel Imoke, Governor of Cross River State, Nigeria. “Working with the Federal and State Ministries of Environment, the Cross River State Forestry Commission, the Wildlife Conservation Society and other international NGOs and partners, we are certain that the continued success at protecting the world's rarest gorilla will be enhanced in the years to come.”

Dr. Elizabeth Bennett, Vice President of WCS’s Species Conservation Program, said: “A crucial component to all future conservation activities will be the continued support of local communities throughout Cross River gorilla range in both Nigeria and Cameroon. On the international level, the survival of these primates will depend on the sustained efforts of conservationists working in tandem with government agencies. Our success so far indicates we are headed in the right direction.”

The report’s authors are: Andrew Dunn of the Wildlife Conservation Society; Richard Bergl of the North Carolina Zoo; Dirck Byler of the US Fish and Wildlife Service; Samuel Eben-Ebai of the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife, Cameroon; Denis Ndeloh Etiendem of the Centre for Research and Conservation, Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp, Belgium; Roger Fotso of the Wildlife Conservation Society; Romanus Ikfuingei of the Wildlife Conservation Society; Inaoyom Imong of the Wildlife Conservation Society and Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Germany; Chris Jameson of the Wildlife Conservation Society; Liz Macfie of the Wildlife Conservation Society; Bethan Morgan of San Diego Zoo Global; Anthony Nchanji of the Wildlife Conservation Society; Aaron Nicholas of the Born Free Foundation; Louis Nkembi of the Environment and Rural Development Foundation, Cameroon; Fidelis Omeni of the Federal Ministry of Environment, Nigeria; John Oates of Hunter College, City University of New York; Amy Pokempner of the Wildlife Conservation Society; Sarah Sawyer of the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service; and Elizabeth Williamson of the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group.

This action planning process was completed with support from: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; the North Carolina Zoo; WCS; IUCN SSC PSG; SOS -Save Our Species ; Arcus Foundation; KfW; UNEP Convention on Migratory Species; UNEP Great Apes Survival Partnership; and other partners.

JOHN DELANEY: (1-718-220-3275; jdelaney@wcs.org)
STEPHEN SAUTNER: (1-718-220-3682; ssautner@wcs.org)
ROD HACKNEY: (1-336-879-7204; rod.hackney@nczoo.org)
Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)
WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. VISION: WCS envisions a world where wildlife thrives in healthy lands and seas, valued by societies that embrace and benefit from the diversity and integrity of life on earth. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in more than 60 nations and in all the world’s oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. Visit: www.wcs.org; facebook.com/TheWCS; youtube.com/user/WCSMedia; follow: @theWCS.

IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group
The Primate Specialist Group (PSG) is concerned with the conservation of more than 680 species and subspecies of prosimians, monkeys, and apes. Its particular tasks include carrying out conservation status assessments, the compilation of action plans, making recommendations on taxonomic issues, and publishing information on primates to inform IUCN policy as a whole. The PSG facilitates the exchange of critical information among primatologists and the professional conservation community.

North Carolina Zoo
MISSION: The mission of the NC Zoo is to encourage an understanding of and commitment to the conservation of the world's wild animal and plant species, the need for healthy natural habitats and recognition of the interdependence of people, their natural environment and its component resources. We are actively involved with wildlife conservation throughout North Carolina and around the world. The NC Zoo is an agency of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Visit us at: www.nczoo.org and http://www.facebook.com/nczoo

The Arcus Foundation
Founded in 2000 by Jon Stryker, the Arcus Foundation is a private grantmaking institution. Arcus’ mission is to achieve social justice that is inclusive of sexual orientation, gender identity and race, and to ensure conservation and respect of the great apes. The Foundation works globally and has offices in New York City and Cambridge, UK. Connect with Arcus @ twitter.com/arcusgreatapes facebook.com/arcusgreatapes

SOS—Save Our Species
SOS -Save Our Species is a joint initiative of IUCN, the Global Environment Facility and the World Bank. Its objective is to ensure the long-term survival of threatened species and their habitats.