Mongabay Series: Global Forest Reporting Network

Gorillas in threatened Cameroon forest caught on film for first time

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Gorillas have been caught on camera in the Ebo Forest of southwest Cameroon for the first time ever.

Gorillas in threatened Cameroon forest caught on film for first time
  • Ebo Forest covers nearly 2,000 square kilometres (about 770 square miles) of lowland and montane forest in southwestern Cameroon.
  • Camera traps deployed by the Clubs des Amis des Gorilles (Gorilla Guardian Clubs), a community-based conservation program launched by the Ebo Forest Research Project, captured three individual gorillas in new footage.
  • Hunting and the bushmeat trade is a major threat to the Ebo Forest gorilla population, while palm plantations are encroaching on the forest itself.

Gorillas have been caught on camera in the Ebo Forest of Cameroon for the first time ever.

Ebo Forest is comprised of nearly 2,000 square kilometers (about 770 square miles) of lowland and montane forest in southwestern Cameroon, a large portion of which has been disturbed by human activity.

Camera traps deployed by the Clubs des Amis des Gorilles (Gorilla Guardian Clubs), a community-based conservation program launched by the Ebo Forest Research Project, captured three individual gorillas in the footage, two juveniles and one pregnant female.

Hunting and the bushmeat trade is a main source of income for residents of the 19 villages that surround Ebo Forest, but it is also one of the biggest threats to the local gorilla population.

Palm oil production is another major threat facing Ebo Forest and its inhabitants, as Cameroon officials appear set to follow the example set by Indonesia and Malaysia, which both aggressively pursued palm oil plantations as a means of economic development, often at the expense of vast tracts of forest.

Ebo Forest currently enjoys no protected status even though it is home to 11 different primate species, including a very small population of gorillas thought to represent a distinct subspecies, though that has yet to be confirmed by scientists. A significant population of the endangered Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee and one of only two known populations of the critically endangered Preuss’s red colobus call the forest home, as well.

Bethan Morgan, head of the Central Africa Program at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, under which the Ebo Forest Research Project is managed, said that while small, Ebo Forest’s gorilla population is of conservation interest because it is geographically intermediate between the two western subspecies of gorillas, the Cross River gorilla and the Western lowland gorilla.

However, genetic tests are not currently being performed in order to determine whether or not the Ebo Forest population is a distinct subspecies, Morgan told Mongabay, because that research is not considered to be the best use of the limited funds available for gorilla conservation in Cameroon.

“Since the number of gorillas is so small, less than 25 individuals, the amount of research effort needed to exhaustively sample all the individuals would be extremely expensive, and possibly statistically unfeasible,” Morgan said.

Ebo Forest has experienced less human impact than surrounding areas to the southwest, with the forest monitoring platform Global Forest Watch showing only 246 hectares of tree cover loss from 2001 through 2014. However, almost half of that loss occurred in just the two years between 2013 and 2014, indicating disturbance may be ramping up in the area. Indeed, about a third of Ebo Forest is covered by a large mining concession and a management unit that allows selective logging. Satellite imagery from 2015 (upper left inset) also shows what appear to be roads and a human settlement inside Ebo’s boundaries.
Ebo Forest has experienced less human impact than surrounding areas to the southwest, with the forest monitoring platform Global Forest Watch showing only 246 hectares of tree cover loss from 2001 through 2014. However, almost half of that loss occurred in just the two years between 2013 and 2014, indicating disturbance may be ramping up in the area. Indeed, about a third of Ebo Forest is covered by a large mining concession and a management unit that allows selective logging. Satellite imagery from 2015 (upper left inset) also shows what appear to be roads and a settlement inside Ebo’s boundaries.

Since 2010, the Ebo Forest Research Project (EFRP) has been led by Ekogwe Abwe, who won a Whitley Award in 2013 for his conservation efforts in southwest Cameroon. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Great Ape Conservation Fund, the Arcus Foundation, and others help fund the EFRP’s conservation work.

Originally founded by the San Diego Zoo Global in 2002 after gorillas were first spotted in Ebo Forest, the EFRP has two permanent research stations from which Abwe and team collect data on the movements of the remaining gorillas, chimpanzees and other endangered species within the forest.

This data is vital to lobbying efforts aimed at convincing the government of Cameroon to declare Ebo Forest a national park and hence a legally protected area, Morgan said.

The Cameroon government has been considering this proposal since 2003, but Morgan said there is hope that this new footage of Ebo gorillas, together with the efforts of local communities who support reclassification of the forest, will help move the process forward more quickly.

“Turning Ebo into a national park would enable the government’s Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife to have a permanent presence in the forest, and ecoguards could start protecting the endangered species,” Morgan said.

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