May 7, 2015—Inaoyom Imong of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Nigeria Program has won a prestigious Whitley Award for his work in protecting the Cross River gorilla, Africa’s most endangered great ape.

The Whitley Award, donated by the Garfield Weston Foundation and worth £35,000 (approximately $54,000) in project funding, was presented to Imong on April 29th by HRH The Princess Royal in a ceremony held at the Royal Geographical Society in London. The prize is given annually to individuals in recognition of noteworthy achievements in conservation.

Imong is one among several winners at this year’s Whitley Awards, organized by the Whitley Fund for Nature, a UK-registered charity that champions outstanding grassroots leaders in nature conservation across the developing world.

Imong is the Director of WCS’s Cross River Landscape Project based in Nigeria. Under Imong’s direction, the initiative works with local communities around the Mbe Mountains to protect the forest and its population of Cross River gorillas, a subspecies that only occurs along the mountainous border region of Nigeria and Cameroon.

Classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the Cross River gorilla  (Gorilla gorilla diehli) numbers fewer than 300 individuals throughout its range,  and is the rarest of the four subspecies of gorilla.

Imong has also helped establish the Conservation Association of the Mbe Mountains, a group comprising the nine communities who traditionally own the Mbe Mountains and are working to turn the area into a designated wildlife sanctuary.

“We congratulate Inaoyom Imong for his well-deserved award, which is also a tribute to conservation in Nigeria,” said Dr. Elizabeth Bennett, WCS Vice President for Species Conservation. “Recognition of his work is extremely important to garner support vital for the continued survival of the Cross River gorilla and the other wild denizens of the biodiverse Cross River landscape.”

Imong has worked for WCS’s Nigeria Program since 2004 and is currently completing his PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, focusing on the spatial ecology and conservation of the Cross River gorilla.  In 2013 he received the GRASP-Ian Redmond Conservation Award. He is a member of the Scientific Commission of the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) and a member of the Primate Specialist Group, Species Survival Commission of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).