Video Captures Hidden World of Elusive Apes

May 8, 2012

Rare camera trap footage of Cross River gorillas reveals candid behaviors of these rarest of apes as they make their way along a forest path in Cameroon’s Kagwene Gorilla Sanctuary.

Cross River gorillas—the rarest of the great apes—seldom make a public appearance, even for the field researchers who study them. So when conservationists reviewed the footage from remote cameras set up in Cameroon’s Kagwene Gorilla Sanctuary, the scene they discovered startled them. The camera traps had recorded eight Cross River gorillas taking a casual walk in the woods. Among the video’s highlights: a male silverback’s captivating chest-beating display.

The video represents the first camera trap video footage of these critically endangered gorillas, a subspecies with fewer than 250 individuals remaining.

“This video gives us all a spectacular view into the hidden world of one of our closest relatives, which is in dire need of our help to survive,” said Steve Sanderson, WCS President and CEO.

Christopher Jameson, Director of WCS’s Takamanda Mone Landscape Project, added: “The video represents the best images to date of Cross River gorillas, normally shy animals that flee at the slightest hint of human presence. The footage provides us with our first tantalizing glimpses of Cross River gorillas behaving normally in their environment. A person can study these animals for years and never even catch a glimpse of the gorillas, much less see anything like this.”

Though the footage offers a hopeful sign of the Cross River gorilla’s survival in this dense forest, it also serves as a warning: About halfway through, viewers may notice one of the apes with a missing hand. Though healed, the injury attests to the gorilla’s past encounter with a snare, before new park guards moved in to patrol the forest—now a protected area—where this family group lives.

“Cross River gorillas occur in very low densities across their entire range, so the appearance of a possible snare injury is a reminder that continued law enforcement efforts are needed to prevent further injuries to gorillas in the sanctuary,” said Dr. Liz Macfie, WCS Gorilla Coordinator.

The government of Cameroon established the Kagwene Gorilla Sanctuary in 2008 for the sole purpose of protecting Cross River gorillas. The park evolved out of the “Gorilla Guardian” community network that WCS created to improve survival prospects for these apes in the country's most vulnerable, unprotected forests. A conservator (chief warden) now manages the sanctuary, along with two ecoguards, all appointed by the Ministry of Forests and Wildlife. A strong team of local staff from eight villages near the protected area assists the conservation effort. Kagwene is the only site where Cross River gorilla movements are monitored on a daily basis.

To learn more, read the press release >>
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