Wildlife groups have taken up the fight to protect the world’s rarest great ape, the Cross River gorilla.
Conservationists say a road project in Cross River state puts the critically endangered animal in danger and could face a major struggle to survive if the Nigerian government goes ahead with plans to build a new highway through its territory.
But what do we know of this primate indigenous to the Cross River area of the mountains of the Cameroon-Nigeria border?
- It was unknown to science until the early 20th century. Only found in a few forest patches in Nigeria and Cameroon, it is the world’s rarest great ape.
- It was named a new species in 1904 by Paul Matschie, a mammalian taxonomist working at the Humboldt University Zoological Museum in Berlin, Germany.
- It differs from the other subspecies of the western lowland gorilla in skull and tooth dimensions.
- The Cross River gorilla is usually found in montane rainforest between 1,500 and 3,500 meters and in bamboo forrests from about 2,500 to 3,000 meters.
- It has a population of only around 250-300 divided into several subpopulations, some of which number no more than 20 individuals.
Work has already begun on the new road and a corridor is being cleared through the forest in preparation for the creation of the 260-kilometre highway, running from the seaport of Bakassi to Benue state.
The new road which is reported to feature six lanes and Wi-Fi along much of its route, is being built in an effort to stimulate economic growth and promote tourism in the region.
The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has launched a campaign to prevent the construction of the highway, by pressuring the Nigerian government to seek an alternative route that doesn’t cut through protected areas.
“We implore the Cross River State government to reconsider the proposed highway and explore other ways of improving the state’s infrastructure,” said Andrew Dunn, Director for WCS’s Nigeria Country Program, in a statement.
“The project as it stands will displace more than 180 local communities and greatly diminish the country’s natural heritage.”
WCS has put together an online petition urging the authorities to reconsider their plan. It has gained more than 41,000 signatures in the first two weeks of campaigning.