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Saturday, June 22: Stone Zoo will close at 3pm (last tickets sold at 2pm) in preparation for our event, A Wild Affair. Please plan your visit accordingly!

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Cross-River Gorilla Conservation at the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary

Zoo New England has been a longtime supporter of gorilla conservation, devoting passion, expertise and resources to the preservation of this iconic species. Through this partnership, we deepen our commitment not only to Cross-River gorillas, but to the Community Rangers who work to protect them.

With a population estimated to be fewer than 300 individuals, the Cross-River gorilla is the most endangered great ape in Africa. The IUCN lists the Cross-River gorilla as “critically endangered,” meaning the species is considered to be facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild. Endemic only to Nigeria and Cameroon, these gorillas are considered a flagship species for conservation in the region.

Habitat loss is the most significant threat to Cross-River gorillas, primarily due to the conversion of forested land to agricultural or grazing land. The gorilla's habitat is also surrounded by some of the most densely settled human areas in the region, and the human population continues to increase. Other threats include poaching, disease and lack of management of protected habitat.

Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary (AMWS) is home to about 10% of the total Cross-River gorilla population. This sanctuary and the surrounding Afi River Forest Reserve constitute one of the largest forest blocks left in Cross-River State, outside of the national park. Due to poor protection and weak management, the sanctuary has undergone a slow but steady decline. Gorilla habitat within the sanctuary is being lost to illegally grown farms, and illegal hunting is widespread.

Zoo New England partners with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to help strengthen the management and enforcement of protections within AMWS. The WCS program's conservation strategy is based on four key components:

  • Protected area management and law enforcement
  • Community conservation
  • Conservation education and public awareness
  • Alternative livelihoods 

SAFE funding provides field equipment and supplies, helps improve anti-poaching efforts, and supports the full-time employment of Community Rangers, who play a critical role in the sanctuary’s well-being. Support of anti-poaching planning and monitoring by these rangers has shown to significantly improve law enforcement effectiveness and has gradually reduced hunting within the sanctuary.

Program Updates

The most significant progress in protecting Cross-River gorillas was the signing of a 10-year MOU with the Cross-River State Government to improve the conservation of AMWS and the Mbe Mountains. This important milestone will strengthen the protection of species inhabiting Cross-River National Park by wildlife authorities and to the local communities that form the Conservation Association of the Mbe Mountains (CAMM). As a result of this expanded on-the-ground protection, there continues to be no reported poaching of a Cross-River gorilla since 2012.

First-Ever Images of World's Rarest Gorilla with Groups of Babies

cross river gorillas

The Wildlife Conservation Society released the first-known camera-trap images of a group of Cross-River gorillas with a number of infants of different ages. This species is rarely seen, let alone photographed, even by remote cameras. These images are an indication that Cross-River gorillas are successfully reproducing and populations recovering as a result of field based protection efforts.

Photo: © WCS Nigeria

Additional Gorilla Conservation Initiatives

Zoo New England has been an active participant in gorilla conservation through the following programs and initiatives:

APE Tag Conservation Initiative

The Ape TAG Conservation Initiative is a collective effort by zoos to help conserve wild populations of endangered apes in their natural habitats. Projects range from species monitoring and protection to law enforcement, ecotourism, and veterinary and disease monitoring. All projects include the local communities. These projects help gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, gibbons and their habitats.

Cell Phone Donations

By recycling your phones at Zoo New England, you help protect animals like western lowland gorillas that live in areas where cell phone materials are mined. Electronic gadgets like cell phones, ipods and tables contain coltan, a mineral extracted from the forests of Africa. Mining for coltan destroys the natural habitat of gorillas and many other species, pushing these animals closer to extinction. Zoo New England has teamed up with Eco-Cell, a company that partners with zoos across the country, to collect your used cell phones to recycle or refurbish them for reuse.

Species Survival Plan

Zoo New England participates in the Western lowland gorilla Species Survival Plan. By sharing research and knowledge, participating institutions work together to establish guidelines that best ensure the health of captive populations, and with success, the survival of endangered species.