The Wild Africa Fund, an environmental NGO, says that the Cross River gorillas can boost local tourism if there were deliberate policies to protect them.
The fund urged the public to protect Nigeria’s unique Cross River gorillas by supporting ongoing efforts to safeguard their populations and habitat as well as reducing demand for commercial bushmeat that threatens them.
This is contained in a statement signed by Festus Iyorah, Nigeria Representative of the fund and made available on Sunday in Lagos.
According to him, the Cross River gorillas live in the mountainous region between Nigeria and Cameroon and it’s Africa’s most endangered ape species.
He said that available records showed that fewer than 300 individuals of these gorillas remained in the wild, with 100 of them living in Nigeria’s Cross River State and the rest in Cameroon.
He said that the Gorillas were found in Nigeria in the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary, the Mbe Mountains, and the Okwangwo division of the Cross River National Park.
He explained that the Cross River gorilla, one of Nigeria’s most iconic and cherished wildlife species, faced numerous threats, including hunting and habitat loss due to agricultural expansion, commercial logging and the encroachment of human settlements into its habitat.
Mr Iyorah noted that while the hunting of gorillas had reduced over the last few years, wire snares set for other animals in the bushmeat trade could also entrap gorillas, leading to injuries and, in some cases, death.
“We can’t afford to lose even one of our 100 Cross River Gorillas at this critical stage. Let us all come together to protect the Cross River Gorilla and ensure that these remarkable species continue to thrive in our country for generations to come,” Mr Iyorah said.
The Nigeria representative said that the country had taken significant steps to address those challenges and protect the Cross River gorilla.
He said that the National Park Service and Cross River State Government, in collaboration with local and international conservation organisations, had been working to safeguard the gorilla’s habitat, enforce anti-poaching laws, and promote community-based conservation initiatives.
He said that efforts were crucial, not only for the survival of the Cross River gorillas but also for the preservation of our rich biodiversity and the sustainable development of our communities.
He listed the benefits of protecting the gorillas.
“Gorilla based tourism is an invaluable asset to some African countries like Rwanda and Uganda, offering a win-win scenario for both conservation and economic development.
“Tourists from around the globe are drawn to the magic of gorilla encounters, making Gorilla-based tourism a source of foreign currency and funding for community development projects such as schools and healthcare centres.
“Gorilla trekking accounted for 14 per cent of the 498 million dollars Rwanda earned from tourism in 2018, when the government doubled the cost of Gorilla-trekking permits to 1,500 dollars per person.
“In 2018–19, tourism brought in $1.6 billion for Uganda, contributing 7.7 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employing at least 667,000 people,” Mr Iyorah said.
He quoted the CEO of wild Africa Fund, Peter Knights, as saying “If wildlife can be successfully protected in Nigeria it can become a major driver of increased tourism and jobs.”
Mr Iyorah said that Wild Africa Fund had launched a month-long public awareness campaign, using radio, TV, newspapers, billboards, and social media to inform people about the threats facing the Cross River gorillas and to amplify laws and anti-poaching measures protecting them.
He added that the campaign would feature messages from top celebrity ambassadors including Davido, Laycon, Emanuella, and Alex Iwobi, and short documentaries highlighting ongoing efforts to protect gorillas and their habitat.