Great Apes conservation in times of Crisis
In the Lebialem Highlands of Southwest Cameroon, the Environment and Rural Development Foundation-ERuDeF with funding from Arcus Foundation launched its conservation efforts to provide long term protection of great apes species populations in 2010 with focus on Cross River Gorillas and the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees which are located in the Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary (THWS) in Southwest Cameroon. The Lebialem highlands in Cameroon and Nigeria are home to these primates considered as the world’s most critically endangered primates especially the Cross River GorillaImage of Cross River Gorillas captured through camera trap. Picture Credit: Arcus Foundation.
The project is a collaboration between the government of Cameroon, conservation organizations, and local communities. The goal is to conserve the critically endangered Cross River Gorilla primarily and the Nigeria-Cameroon Chimpanzee populations and their habitat, while also improving the livelihoods of local communities. It uses a multi-faceted approach that involves conservation education, community engagement, and sustainable development.
One of the key components of the project is conservation education. The project has worked with local schools to teach students about the importance of conservation and the role that the Cross River Gorilla and Nigeria-Cameroon Chimpanzee play in the ecosystem. It has hosted community events and workshops to raise awareness about the importance of conservation.
This great ape conservation initiative has already achieved some notable successes. For example, the project has helped establish a protected area in the Lebialem Highlands that is home to both primates. In its 15 year vision, it envisages that a total surface area of 130,482 ha would be collectively protected and managed in these highlands to secure and ensure genetic connectivity and migration among species. This is leading to the protection of 60 cross river gorilla sub population, 1000 Nigeria-Cameroon Chimpanzees, 200 African forest elephants as well as other IUCN Red list species such as Drills, Preuss’s monkey, many species of birds, amphibians and reptiles. Through the Community Ranger Support Program that aimed at training at least 12 community rangers who will monitor and enforce laws that protect the primates and their habitat, illegal hunting and logging in the area drastically reduced.
The project had established community-based patrols that helped to deter poachers and illegal loggers. Through the ERuDeF Community Ranger Support Project, community Rangers were trained on bio monitoring techniques as in the use of GPS and setting of camera traps and registering of data coordinates as they patrol the highlands thoroughly to determine the movements of these primates and protect them from humans.
This project has demonstrated how possible it is to protect critically endangered species while also improving the livelihoods of local communities. However, there is still much work to be done to ensure the survival of the Cross River Gorillas and Nigeria-Cameroon Chimpanzees especially with the on-going armed conflict in the English speaking part of Cameroon which happens to be where the Lebialem Highlands is found as well as the project site.