Our project focusses on the protection of isolated groups of the critically endangered Cross river gorilla in the villages Mejang (Belo Sub-Division) to Tudig (Mbengwi Sub-Division), which are located in the North West region of Cameroon. This specific proposal has been prepared and written by villagers from both places, with input from its Village Heads. The current situation is one of uncontrolled, large-scale access by villagers to unprotected village forests for its natural products, for agricultural use (e.g. for cocoyam, beans and corn production) and for hunting. IUCN defines continuing loss, degradation and fragmentation of habitat from farming, and from hunting activities as the major threats to the species. Consequently, the remaining total number of Cross River gorillas is estimated at 250 to 300 individuals worldwide, what makes the species to be assessed as ‘Critically endangered A4cd’.
The number of gorillas in the villages is estimated at 25 to 35 individuals. The historical vegetation type in the villages is similar to the types in and around the protected areas that have been designated for the species, such as the Kagwene gorilla sanctuary and the Takamanda National Park, which is a mix of dense humid forest and forested savannah. Available expert maps (MINFOF, WCS, 2015) on the species’ distribution do not show presence of the Cross river gorilla in Mejang – Tudig, what developed the interest of its village representatives to report it to the Governmental Authorities. The villagers decided at the same time to develop this specific project proposal, in order to explain and express the opinion of the community.
A complete ban on entering the forests is identified as sensitive, as there are no concrete livelihood alternatives available. Restricted access is practically difficult to organise, due to limited financial capacity for village patrols. The suggestion is the establishment of specific alternative livelihood programs at village and inter-village level, such as joint farming outside forests and sensitive savannah habitats.
More concretely, it has been chosen to propose the protection of the species in and between the villages Mejang and Tudig through: the direct protection and conservation of the species’ habitats, the creation of relevant corridors between the isolated populations, the expansion of the preferential area of the species, given the historical vegetation types (towards Tudig), the development of specific farming, grazing and hunting activities at group level. The preference is given to the demarcation of: seriously degraded savannah land for cocoa production, in combination with Palm, Banana/Plantain, and Coco-yams, with a total of 1000ha as long term objective, and similar land for integrated aquaculture, namely for fish ponds, in combination with crops (e.g. rice) and farm animals. savannah land to be planted with fruit and wild tree species.
The decision has been made to focus on organic production (no fertilisers and pesticides), and on extensive use of land (no intensive grazing). No savannah land shall be used that are important for rare species, such as the buffalo. Extensive grazing by farm animals in some areas, such as on the hills of Mbengwi Sub-Division can be allowed for conservation reasons.
The movements of the gorilla individuals and the ecological environment indicate that these are isolated groups. The presence of the critically endangered Cross river gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli) is known in isolated fragmented patches in a zone of 12,000km2 that covers the border between Cross River in Nigeria and Takamanda-Kagwene in Cameroon. The remaining population of this species in Nigeria and Cameroon makes it the world’s most endangered large primate, with an estimated 150 individuals in Cameroon. This proposal focusses on the realisation of the various recommendations from the IUCN, namely to give high attention throughout Cross River gorilla range to conservation education and awareness, improved community participation in conservation issues, and further research. IUCN states that the remaining population of the species in Cameroon is small and fragmented, occurs mostly outside of protected areas and is surrounded by some of the most densely populated human settlements in Africa.
Additional to the direct protection of the habitats in use by the Cross river gorilla, a practical suggestion is the demarcation and development of an expansion zone. This means concretely the rehabilitation of this large area, of which the vegetation was historically a mix of dense humid forest and forested savannah.