Action Plan for Cross River Gorillas
In 2007 IUCN published a five-year (2007–2011) regional Action Plan for the conservation of the Cross River gorilla Gorilla gorilla diehli (Oates et al. 2007) outlining recommended actions that stakeholders believed if implemented would make a significant difference to the survival of the Cross River gorilla. Over the last five years the Action Plan guided efforts to improve the conservation status of the population. To ensure that future conservation strategies and actions are up-to-date with, and effectively address current threats and conservation challenges a review and revision of the existing Action Plan was necessary. From 22–24 February 2012 international scientists, conservation managers, representatives of funding institutions, government officials of the two range states – Nigeria and Cameroon – and other stakeholders met in Limbe, Cameroon to review the 2007 plan and develop a new one for the next five years (2012–2016). The workshop, organized by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) with funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and United Nations Environment Programme – Convention on Migratory Species (UNEP-CMS), was attended by over 40 participants representing international and local conservation organizations, government agencies, and institutions including WCS, USFWS, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Ministry of Forests and Wildlife of Cameroon (MINFOF), Federal Ministry of Environment of Nigeria (FME), Nigeria National Parks Service (NNPS), North Carolina Zoological Park (NC Zoo), UNEP-CMS, Fauna and Flora International (FFI), Media Impact, the Last Great Ape Organization (LAGA), San Diego Zoo and Pandrillus among other NGOs, community-based organizations, and government institutions.
The specific objectives of the workshop were:
- to review the implementation and impacts of the 2007 Action Plan on the conservation of Cross River gorillas,
- to present recent research results relevant to planning for Cross River gorilla conservation,
- to conduct multi-stakeholder planning for the development of a new Action Plan for 2012–2016,
- to enhance the new plan with a structure for understanding and tracking the effectiveness of actions proposed for Cross River gorilla conservation,
- to agree on the structure, process and key roles for finalising, reviewing, producing, and distributing the 2012–2016 Action Plan, and
- to identify data gaps and future research needs.
Implementation and Impact of the 2007 Plan
Overall, a high level of success was achieved in the implementation of actions recommended in the 2007 Action Plan. These recommendations fall under two categories. The first categoriy are those that were taken across the Cross River gorillas’ range and site-specific ones. Among the most effective implemented range-wide strategies and actions are:
- Adoption of a landscape-based management approach involving effective cooperation between conservation managers across the border. Facilitating greater cooperation between implementing government institutions and NGOs on both sides of the border including stronger transboundary collaboration for protection, monitoring and research efforts in the Cross River National Park–Takamanda National Park area.
- Expansion of efforts to raise awareness among the people about the value of conservation in general and about the uniqueness of the Cross River gorilla in particular. These efforts resulted in increased local support and improvements in state wildlife legislation.
- Increased engagement of communities in Cross River gorilla conservation efforts, encouraging increased community support and participation. For example, support for the establishment of a community conservation initiative in the Mbe Mountains in Nigeria and the setting up of a Gorilla Guardians programme in Cameroon (Nicholas 2009) both contributed significantly to gorilla protection in unprotected sites.
- Building local capacity for gorilla research and conservation. Local capacity building was encouraged and supported in recognition of its benefit and necessity for long-term conservation of Cross River gorillas. The need for greater commitment to building local capacity for gorilla conservation in the region was stressed and has been recommended for continuation in the new plan.
- Continued research to better understand the population biology and ecology of the Cross River gorillas, including surveys of poorly-known areas, the monitoring of known populations, and more intensive genetic sampling. Since the launch of the 2007 Action Plan there has been an increase in research focusing on Cross River gorillas including three current PhD research projects. Monitoring of known populations has been enhanced by the introduction of a Cybertracker system (hand-held computer and research software), helping to standardize data collection and management. Increased survey effort yielded new records of gorilla presence in areas outside their previously known range, thus expanding the known range of the Cross River gorilla by over 50 percent (Bergl et al. 2011).
Site-specific actions recommended in the 2007 plan that were successfully implemented and effective include improvement of protected area infrastructure and law enforcement, upgrading of the protection status of certain sites, and development of community-based land-use plans.
Workshop Outcomes and the Future of the Cross River Gorilla
Based on an intensive review of the 2007 Action Plan and examination of recent research results participants at the workshop have formulated a set of priority actions that would be implemented over the next five years to improve the conservation outlook of the Cross River gorilla. Successful implementation of the new set of recommended actions and ultimately the conservation of Cross River gorillas depends on the commitment of all stakeholders – local, national and international. With stronger will and commitment of the governments of both range countries, increased community support, and sustained donor support it is hoped that implementation of the actions recommended in the revised Action Plan will have significant impact on the survival of Cross River gorillas. At the end of the highly fruitful meeting participants dispersed with a better understanding of the threats and challenges impacting the survival of Cross River gorillas, but also with a reinforced vision for the future for these gorillas, a future where Cross River gorillas are better understood, better protected, more abundant, and able to move freely across their landscape.
Inaoyom Imong and Chris Jameson
Bergl, R. et al. (2012): Remote sensing analysis reveals habitat, dispersal corridors and expanded distribution for the Critically Endangered Cross River gorilla Gorilla gorilla diehli. Oryx 46, 278–289
Nicholas, A. (2009): Gorilla Guardians Gain Momentum. Gorilla Journal 39, 12–14
Oates, J. et al. (2007): Regional Action Plan for the Conservation of the Cross River Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli). Arlington, VA (IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group and Conservation International)