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Gorilla Conservation

Gorilla Conservation

Photo courtesy of Shelly Masi

In 2008, western gorillas were re-classified as Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) based on projected population declines. The primary threats are loss of habitat, poaching and disease. Mbeli Bai is a large swampy forest clearing situated in the south-west corner of the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in northern Congo.

The Mbeli Bai Study is the only long-term population study of western gorillas, collecting important information on social organization, demography and behavior. Research efforts are combined with capacity building, international awareness raising, conservation education and local community outreach programs. The presence of researchers and their camps in the forest helps to deter and decrease illegal activities such as logging and poaching in the area. Researcher presence in the study area provides immediate protection of strategic areas of the park and acts as an early warning system for illegal human activities. Due to these research and education activities, Mbeli Bai (a former elephant poaching area) has been free of poaching for nearly 15 years.

The Cross River gorilla is the most threatened ape in Africa and currently classified as Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Found only in a small mountainous area on the border between Cameroon and Nigeria, there are fewer than 300 individuals remaining today. The Cross River Project focuses on the Mbe Mountains, one of only three sites in Nigeria where Cross River gorillas are still found. Adjacent to the Cross River National Park is community-owned land that has been set aside as a community wildlife sanctuary by the nine communities that surround the mountain for the purposes of strict biodiversity protection. Anti-poaching patrols and gorilla monitoring are conducted by a team of local eco-guards. The project has been successful in reducing the levels of hunting and encroachment by surrounding farmers and also in increasing conservation awareness in the area.

This project is investigating gorilla feeding ecology and food choice behavior in Bai Hokou, Central African Republic. Currently little is known about western gorilla food choice and how young individuals learn to acquire the adult diet and avoid toxic plants and almost no data is available on gorilla consumption of plants with bioactive (medicinal) properties. This study is investigating when and how western gorilla discriminate food from noxious plants and the context in which consumption of plants with medicinal properties occurs. This study underlines the value of (plant) chemical diversity for the health of both humans and great apes, and is generating valuable information for planning appropriate conservation strategies for endangered gorillas.

All three species of African great apes (gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos) are threatened with extinction due to habitat loss, illegal hunting and poaching, disease and conflict. Primate sanctuaries have developed in Africa to try to accommodate the staggering numbers of orphaned animals that occur as a result of these threats. The Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) center is the first facility of its kind in east central Africa, with room for young lowland gorillas to live in groups and roam through natural habitat. The site was donated by the Tayna Center for Conservation Biology (TCCB) adjacent to the Tayna Nature Reserve. Both the TCCB and the reserve are owned and managed by the local communities. Studies have shown that gorilla rehabilitation centers and sanctuaries can help to discourage the illegal trade in live gorilla infants. The GRACE center will also conduct conservation education and public awareness programs.

The Zoo & Zoo Society also support gorilla conservation projects through the Ape TAG Conservation Initiative, and support of the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA).

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