Conservationists have hailed the sighting of the rare Cross River gorilla as a “positive sign” that the specie, once thought to be going extinct, are now reproducing and may soon have a stable population.
Photographs of the Cross River primates were taken in the Mbe mountain range by the Wildlife Conservation Society in May and June 2020 and pictures released recently have got conservationists excited.
Experts in the field have hailed the sighting as a “positive sign” for the breed and said no babies have been caught on camera before.
It comes as conservationists believed there were only around 300 Cross River gorillas living in isolated mountain regions in Nigeria and Cameroon at one point, due to hunting and illegal deforestation.
Professor emeritus at the City University of New York and a primatologist who helped establish conservation efforts for the gorillas more than two decades ago, John Oates, was excited about the new images.
“It was great to see … evidence that these gorillas in these mountains are reproducing successfully because there have been so few images in the past,” he said.
“We know very little about what is going on with reproduction with this subspecies, so to see many young animals is a positive sign.”
Experts don’t know exactly how many Cross River gorillas remain in the mountain cluster and have been trying to track the subspecies for some time.
About 50 cameras were set up in 2012 in Cameroon’s Kagwene Gorilla Sanctuary, Nigeria’s Mbe Mountains community forest and Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary.
However, Cross River gorillas are notoriously difficult to capture together on camera and no images had captured multiple infants.
They are extremely shy of humans and their presence is detected mostly by their nests, dung and feeding trails, experts say.
A team of about 16 eco-guards have been recruited from surrounding communities to patrol and protect the gorillas and other wildlife.
Wildlife Conservation Society Nigeria director, Andrew Dunn said: “It’s a big success story that shows communities can protect their wildlife.”
Chief Damian Aria, head of the village of Wula, Boki local government area of Cross River, added: “I feel honoured to be part of the efforts that are producing these results.”
He said the community was “happy they are reproducing” and while important for nature he also hoped it would bring tourism to the region.