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AFC Flag Expedition #6:
Cross River Gorillas - The Most Endangered Primate
Expedition Artist: Daniel Taylor
Purpose: To observe the critically endangered Cross River Gorilla in its remaining habitat, conduct the first artistic field study of the primate in the wild and support conservation efforts through fundraising and education.
Location: Lebialem Highlands, South West Cameroon
Scheduled For: November 2007
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The Cross River Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli) is the most threatened primate in Africa with less than 300 individuals existing in the wild. They are restricted to a small range in the remote and densely forested hills and mountains at the Nigerian-Cameroon border. The IUCN classifies the Cross River Gorilla as Critically Endangered (CR A2c; C2a(i)) and it is considered to be facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.

Cross River Gorillas were largely neglected by the outside world from when they were described by Matchie as a new species in 1904 until the first systematic surveys in 1987. Since then the populations have received increasing attention from scientists and conservationists. Field work in the last two decades has revealed that fewer than 300 Cross River Gorillas may remain, spread across a total area of about 12,000 km2. Within that area, most gorilla signs have been found in 11 discrete localities, most of which are 10 km or more apart.

Recent genetic studies suggest that gorillas at ten of these localities - extending east from Afi Mountain in Nigeria to Kagwene Mountain in Cameroon - constitute one population, divided into three sub-populations which still occasionally exchange migrants. Potential gorilla habitat still connects all of these localities.

Researchers mentioned the possibility of the existence of gorilla populations in the forest around Fossimondi in 1967. No work in this area however was carried out to investigate this observation until 2003 during a community forestry sensitization meeting in Fossimondi when local staff was informed by the local people of the presence of gorillas and chimpanzees in their forest. Rapid surveys in 2004 confirmed the presence of both Cross River gorillas and the endangered East Nigeria-West Cameroon Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes vellerosus) in the project area.

The African Conservation Foundation and its local partners conducted surveys in 2005 and 2006. A total of 352km of recce has been realized, in particular within the Bechati- Fossimondi-Besali forest, Mak-Betchou forest and UFA11002, a logging concession. Gorilla sightings and chimpanzee vocalizations were recorded. 120 nest sites were found, including 40 nest sites belonging to gorillas and 80 nest sites to the chimpanzees. The Bechati-Fossimondi-Besali forest had the highest number of nest sites. The 40 gorilla nest sites included 510 individual nests, while 80 chimpanzee nest sites included 681 individual nests. The researchers have recorded about 40 gorillas and over 100 chimpanzees in the Bechati-Fossimondi-Besali forest.

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