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Snails and endangered gorillas: Perfect together?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Cross River gorillaHow do you save critically endangered gorillas? One idea, currently being tested by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), is to introduce snails to Nigeria.

More specifically, snail farming. The idea is that snail farming could provide both a revenue stream and a new source of protein for Nigerians, making the poaching of gorillas less attractive.

As we wrote just a few weeks ago, gorillas—especially the critically endangered Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli)—face numerous threats in central Africa because the area is so poor. The gorillas are losing out to illegal logging, the bushmeat trade (poaching), mining and the charcoal trade, all of which could, according to the United Nations and Interpol, drive gorillas into extinction in as little as 15 years.

There are just 300 Cross River gorillas in existence, so every poached or lost animal is potentially devastating to the species.

"People living near Cross River gorillas have trouble finding alternative sources of income and food and that’s why they poach," James Deutsch, WCS’s Africa program director, said in a prepared statement. "We are working with them to test many livelihood alternatives, but perhaps the most promising, not to mention novel, is snail farming."

WCS picked eight former gorillas poachers and set them up to raise African giant snails (Archachatina marginata), a local delicacy. With funding by the Great Apes Program of the Arcus Foundation, WCS helped construct snail pens, then stocked each pen with 230 giant snails. The snails breed quickly, and should yield a harvest of 3,000 snails per year.snails

According to WCS, this should end up being a fairly profitable enterprise for local farmers. Annual costs are estimated at just $87 per farmer, with profits around $413 per year.

The meat of one gorilla, says the WCS, would net a poacher around $70.

WCS previously helped create Takamanda National Park in Cameroon, which safeguards a third of the world’s Cross River gorilla population.

Photos: Cross River Gorilla, via Wikipedia. Snails courtesy Wildlife Conservation Society.

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  1. 1. David N'Gog 9:23 am 04/30/2010

    "with profits around $413 per year.

    The meat of one gorilla, says the WCS, would net a poacher around $70."

    So- it only takes 6 gorillas to equal the profit from an entire years worth of snail profits.

    I don’t know how easy it is to hunt gorillas. However, I’d imagine, 6 gorillas doesn’t seem too many- gorilla hunting would still be more profitable.

    Also: there may be enough demand for snail meat for a handfull of poachers. If they switch en-masse, would an increase in supply not deplete the profit margin as supply begins to exceed demand.

    Nice idea though.

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  2. 2. mamram 9:56 am 04/30/2010

    David, consider that the 280 cross river gorillas total are found in 11 different locations. It seems to me that a population of 25 or 30 wouldn’t be able to sustain the loss of 6 gorillas per poacher per year for any length of time at all. I am guessing that you have overestimated the number of poachers, and the number of gorillas each poacher takes each year. If one or two poachers at each location are taking two or three gorillas each per year, which sounds to me like a more likely description of what is going on, snail farming would be a very attractive alternative.

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  3. 3. ormondotvos 2:46 pm 04/30/2010

    Amazing how we worry about too few gorillas, and compartmentalize the problem of too MANY people.

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  4. 4. Johnay 11:45 am 05/3/2010

    How much time does raising snails take off the poachers’ hands? Do they not have time to hunt a gorilla now and then on the side if they are busy raising snails?

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  5. 5. ormondotvos 3:09 pm 05/3/2010

    Well, you know, herding snails takes a lot of time, unless you use a turtledog.

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  6. 6. sara2010 8:31 am 05/18/2010

    I think that this is a very important idea and would really work. If they do this more often, having snail farms, then these gorillas would not have a chance of being extinct. I think this is a great idea and they should start right now and do it.

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