Endangered Baby Gorilla Pictured In Wild For First Time In 10 Years
Wild gorillas have been spotted deep in their natural jungle habitat for the first time in more than a decade.
Conservationists from the Bristol Zoological Society and the University of the West of England (UWE) in Bristol set up a camera trap in Monte Alén National Park in Equatorial New Guinea, west Africa, in a bid to snap the beautiful creatures.
It was never certain whether they’d get the pictures they wanted – however, the team got lucky. Photos taken by the hidden cameras showed the curious young apes exploring their surroundings, even wandering right up to the lenses.
They are the first wild western lowland gorillas to be photographed in more than a decade. Dr Gráinne McCabe, Head of Conservation and Field Science at Bristol Zoological Society and one of the researchers spearheading the project, was understandably thrilled when the images came through.
We were so excited when we saw the images. One of our assistants let out a shout when he opened the first photo of the gorilla. While local people had reported seeing the animals around the villages from time to time, we hadn’t been able to catch sight of one yet.
This suggested their numbers in the park might be low, and researchers haven’t been working in this area for over 10 years. To see these animals in real life would be magical, but this is the next best thing, and so this is truly special – certainly a career highlight.
Dr McCabe said it was particularly exciting to see young gorillas, estimated to be about four years old, as this shows a new generation has been born and appears to be thriving. ‘It is a huge milestone for the project as it confirms their existence here, despite heavy hunting pressure in this forest,’ she added.
As the species is listed as Critically Endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List, the gorilla population in Monte Alén National Park is hugely important (back in 2005, 2,000 western lowland gorillas were estimated to live in the area, while current numbers are unknown).
Levels of poaching in the park are high, Dr McCabe says, with other primates – including mandrills and various species of smaller-bodied monkey – heavily hunted for bush meat, a delicacy in Central Africa. ‘We have always been very concerned that they are at risk of being hunted into extinction in this area,’ she said.
However, the photos are crucial in establishing a conservation plan. Dr McCabe explained:
We will be able to work alongside the national park to find areas where patrols should be targeted to prevent poaching, for example. Eventually, if poaching can be controlled, we may be able to help bring back eco-tourism to the area.
Bristol Zoological Society’s field team, led by post-doctoral research associate Dr Patrick McLaughlin, are currently placing more cameras in the park, with 30 planned by Easter.
Dr David Fernández, a primate behavioural ecologist and conservation biologist at UWE Bristol and a co-lead on the project, said they’ll use the data to ‘establish population size and location across the park, along with surveys, to investigate for signs of poaching, by the presence of shotgun shells for example’.
The dwindling population of wild western lowland gorillas is reflected across five other African countries – Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo and Gabon. Due to the dense, remote areas they inhabit, their exact numbers aren’t known.
Recent estimates place the population across the range at 360,000, with scientists predicting gorilla numbers have declined by more than 60% over the last 20-25 years.
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