North Carolina Zoo is helping to save gorillas in the wild. We equip rangers with the tools they need to track and reduce threats to gorillas as well as count the gorillas themselves. In addition, we are assessing the potential risk of disease transmission between gorillas, livestock, and people.
The World’s Most Endangered Ape
Inhabiting the rugged highlands on the Nigeria-Cameroon border, the Cross River gorilla is the most endangered primate in the world. The survival of these gorillas is threatened by hunting, persecution, and habitat loss: only about 300 Cross River gorillas remain. Today the Cross River gorillas are found only in very remote and mountainous forests, where hunters are reluctant to go and where steep slopes prevent farming.
Cutting-Edge Approaches to Conservation
Since 2007, the North Carolina Zoo have been working with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to help save the Cross River gorilla. Together, the Zoo and WCS are employing a range of cutting edge technologies and approaches to conserve these unique animals. One method is to train rangers in the use of SMART technology on rugged hand-held devices to better track illegal activities and the movements of the gorillas. This system has now documented reductions in threats like snaring and hunting in many of the areas where the gorillas are found.
The Zoo is also conducting research on the threat posed by disease to the gorillas. Since 2016, rangers and other field staff have been collecting fecal samples from several places where Cross River gorillas are found. Working with Emory University, we are looking for the presence of parasites in these fecal samples to see if diseases are being transmitted from local human and livestock populations to the gorillas in the wild. The results of this study will also benefit the people who live in communities near the gorillas’ habitat, by providing them with medical screening that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to. Depending on the results, new public health strategies may be necessary to reduce this potential threat. The collection of fecal samples also have an additional benefit: DNA extracted from these samples will be used to generate genetic “fingerprints” of the gorillas in order to track population size more precisely.
Expanding our Work to Help Other Gorillas
The success of our Cross River gorilla conservation work has attracted attention from other organizations involved with gorilla conservation in other parts of Africa. The International Gorilla Conservation Programme requested our help in planning the Mountain gorilla census that is conducted in Central Africa’s Albertine Rift every five years. Using the system we developed for Cross River gorillas as a template, we devised a digital data collection system to help them count these famous gorillas (they are the ones that were studied by Dian Fossey). The system we helped put in place was used by teams from three different countries during the mountain gorilla’s census and helped make this enormous undertaking a success. Findings from this census indicated that Mountain gorillas—now numbering about 1,000 individuals, may be the only great ape in the world with an increasing population.
Partners: Cameroon Ministry of Forests and Wildlife (MINFOF), Cross River State Forestry Commission, Emory University, International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP), Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, NC State University, Nigeria National Parks Service, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)