Great apes, and species in general, don't get much rarer than the critically endangered Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli). Fewer than 300 of these rarely seen gorillas remain, scattered across 12,000 square kilometers of habitat along the border between Nigeria and Cameroon. Although legally protected in both countries, very little of the territory in which the gorillas reside has been set aside for conservation, leaving their populations fragmented, genetically isolated and at risk from continued threats of poaching and additional habitat loss.

A new action plan hopes to turn that around. The five-year, $10.56-million plan aims to increase protections for the gorillas; research their distribution and biology; implement community-based conservation models; protect migration corridors between isolated populations; monitor the animals' heath for diseases such as Ebola and anthrax (which have affected other gorilla subspecies); and develop ecotourism, which could support all of these activities. The new plan—published by the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in cooperation with more than a dozen other conservation and government organizations—builds on the first Cross River gorilla action plan released in 2007. Since that time conservationists have identified additional potential habitat for the gorillas, although actually protecting those territories and allowing gorillas to expand into them without being poached remains a priority.

The action plan's lead author, WCS conservationist Andrew Dunn, called the outlook for the Cross River gorilla "encouraging, provided we build on past successes and continue with key partnerships to protect this great ape and its remaining habitat."

Among the investments promised or sought for in the new plan (pdf) are $500,000 to develop ecotourism and other "alternative livelihood activities" to reduce the pressure humans put on forests; $250,000 to improve law enforcement monitoring; $100,000 to train park rangers, community leaders and others who can aid in conservation; $200,000 to develop and expand education programs to teach local communities about the importance of the apes; plus $250,000 to create a Cross River gorilla conservation graduate scholarship fund. It may take some effort to acquire these funds. The action plan says the existing financial commitments to protect Cross River gorillas "are entirely inadequate," mostly driven by small donations, and calls for more long-term, stable funding sources.

Photo: Camera trap image of a Cross River gorilla, © Wildlife Conservation Society

Previously in Extinction Countdown: