Earlier this month, scientists for the Pan African Sanctuaries Alliance presented new research that predicted the extinction of the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes ellioti), the world's rarest chimpanzee subspecies, within as little as 20 years. Now, just a few weeks later, a conservation plan written by primate experts from 17 conservation groups and government agencies contains an action plan (pdf) to protect and increase the population of this critically endangered great ape.

Somewhere between 3,500 and 9,000 Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees live in the wild, where they are restricted to a few pockets of forested habitat, mostly on the Nigerian side of the border between the two countries that give the animal its name. The subspecies, which was only identified by scientists in 1997, is threatened by its close proximity to dense human populations, which has resulted in habitat destruction and fragmentation, as well as a great deal of poaching for the bushmeat trade. Since the chimpanzees live in increasingly small habitats, disease is also a major danger.

The IUCN Primate Specialist Group, San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, Wildlife Conservation Society, State University of New York-Albany, and North Carolina Zoo are among the organizations that have contributed to the action plan, which has been endorsed by the governments of Nigeria and Cameroon. "Both our governments recognize the great importance of biodiversity conservation in safeguarding our natural heritage, and we have therefore been closely involved in the development of this conservation action plan," said Cameroon Minister of Forestry Elvis Ngolle Ngolle in a prepared statement.

The plan identifies 25 "priority conservation sites," which would protect 95 percent of Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees remaining in the wild. Specific actions outlined in the plan include revising wildlife laws in each country; campaigning to stop the sale of infant chimpanzees and chimpanzee meat; building the capacity of local law enforcement to arrest and prosecute chimpanzee hunters; and creating an awareness campaign to target trans-boundary law enforcement, including customs and immigration officials and judges. Efforts between the two countries will also be improved, including joint patrols and chimpanzee population surveys. The estimated cost of implementing the plan is $14.6 million.

According to the action plan, protecting the chimpanzee would also safeguard other primate species that live in the same habitat, including the critically endangered Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli), drill (Mandrillus leucophaeus), Preuss's monkey (Allochrocebus preussi) and Preuss's red colobus (Procolobus preussi).

The Great Ape Conservation Fund of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the IUCN, and several foundations all supported the development of the action plan.


Photo by Amy Pokempner/Wildlife Conservation Society