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Trail cameras capture first-of-its-kind footage of 'world's rarest' ape species: 'More than a visual success'

Rare sightings like this provide essential data and give much-needed hope for the species' survival.

Photo Credit: iStock

Photo Credit: iStock

Trail cameras have finally caught the elusive and critically endangered Cross River gorilla — the world's rarest great ape.

The western gorilla subspecies, threatened by hunting and habitat loss from deforestation, is estimated to only have 200 to 300 mature individuals left in the wild, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

The Guardian Nigeria reported that two silverbacks were spotted in different parts of the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary by graduate students at the University of Calabar in Nigeria as part of the Cross River Gorilla Initiative.

Launched in 2022 as a graduate scholarship program by the Wilder Institute in partnership with the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) and Centre for Biodiversity Conservation Research (CBCR), the initiative's goal is to facilitate and foster conservation efforts for the gorillas through research and opportunity while encouraging collaborative and communal engagement.

Rare sightings like this provide essential data and give much-needed hope for the species' survival. 

"These findings highlight the sanctuary's vital role in gorilla protection and the need for more research and collaboration to conserve the Cross River gorilla and the region's rich biodiversity," Professor Francis Bisong from the University of Calabar told the Guardian. 

Adekanmbi Cole Adeyinka, an M.S. student from the university's Department of Forestry and Wildlife, told the Guardian: "This sighting is more than just a visual success. It underscores the importance of community involvement and innovative research in conservation. By working closely with local communities, we are not only gathering crucial data but also fostering a deeper understanding and commitment to protecting these incredible great apes and their habitat."

Dr. Joseph Onoja, Director General of NCF, was quoted by the Guardian as saying: "The success of this initiative underscores the significance of collaborative partnerships in addressing the challenges faced by wildlife and their habitats and achieving sustainable wildlife conservation."

As seen in other cases of rare or endangered animals, such as blue whales and the Allegheny woodrat, it is not impossible for an animal whose populations have been threatened by human activity to make a comeback. Even other gorilla species have been revived through reforestation efforts.

Wilder Institute Conservation Manager Dr. Mary Liao said, per the Guardian: "I am incredibly impressed by Cole for his collaboration with local hunters and eco-guards to strategically place the traps, showcasing a perfect blend of scientific and community knowledge and embodying the essence of inclusive conservation."

Working in unison to strengthen numbers and expedite knowledge is a huge reason for the program's success. Hopefully, the Cross River Gorilla Initiative can be an example of locals and communities working together with experts to save more endangered species.

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