Bristol Zoological Society and the University of the West of England (UWE) are working together to set-up a research base in Monte Alén National Park, mainland Equatorial Guinea, to protect western lowland gorillas.
In 2005, it was estimated that around 2,000 of the Critically Endangered gorillas lived in the national park. Current numbers are unknown but scientists predict the global population has declined by more than 60% over the last 25 years. The Monte Alén-Monts de Cristal-Abanga Landscape, a transboundary region between Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, was named as a site of ‘Exceptional Importance’ in the IUCN 10-year Regional Action Plan as it is believed to contain more than five per cent of the global population of gorillas.
Dr Gráinne McCabe, Bristol Zoological Society’s head of field conservation and science, who is leading the project, explained: “The size of the remaining population of western lowland gorillas in Monte Alén is currently unclear, and our first step is to determine if we still have a healthy population here. This population is considered highly irreplaceable, meaning loss of these animals due to hunting or habitat destruction would have a disastrous impact on the species.
“These gorillas help maintain a well-functioning ecosystem for many other species in the park as they are seed-dispersers, so their loss is not only detrimental to the future of these amazing primates but also fellow residents of their habitat.”
Senior lecturer in conservation science from UWE Bristol, Dr David Fernández, explained: “Our efforts will see us working with local communities to find sustainable alternatives to bushmeat hunting as well as training local field technicians and international graduate students in research methods.
“Behaviour change is a crucial part of our project and our aim is to promote behaviours that conserve gorilla habitat among local communities. We’ll also be implementing policy, advocacy, and action planning work with the Equatoguinean government to encourage better enforcement of laws against primate hunting”.
The five-year project is estimated to cost around £500,000, with some funding being spent on placing camera traps around the National Park to determine how gorillas are using the forest, as well as the population size.
To find out more about the project and how you could help towards the protection of threatened species across the world, visit bristolzoo.org.uk.
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