The United Nations Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals has declared this year (2009) as the "Year of the Gorilla."The declaration is in a bid to help save our endangered 'primate cousins', the gorillas, from extinction.
The Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals observed that the population of the four remaining gorilla species in Africa is being threatened by rampant poaching, deforestation and the dreaded Ebola virus which is taking a deadly toll on the lives of primates and even humans.
According to the UN Declaration, three of the four sub-species of gorilla considered critically endangered are the Cross River gorilla, (about 300 individuals), the Mountain gorilla, (about 700 individuals), and the Eastern Lowland Gorilla (about 80.000 individuals).
The fourth specie, the Western Lowland gorilla, about 150,000 in number, is also critically endangered in some of its home countries, the declaration stated.
The conservation organ of the UN has stepped up efforts geared towards the Year of the Gorilla campaign by raising a colossal sum of money to train game rangers, educating judges to understand the need to strictly enforce current anti-poaching laws, supporting scientific research, raising awareness of gorilla threats.
Against this backdrop, the Environment and Rural Development Foundation, ERUDEF, a Buea-based Non Governmental Organisation, has launched an International Field Programme on Biodiversity Conservation and the Great Apes Tracking.
According to ERUDEF CEO, Louis Nkembi, efforts of gorilla conservation in Cameroon are concentrated in the Centre, East, South, Littoral, Northwest and Southwest Regions.
He noted that the most endangered sub-specie of gorilla in Cameroon, the Cross River gorillas, are found in the Takamanda-Mone Forest Landscape, the Kagwene Mountains and the Lebialem-Mone Forest Landscape.
"The Wildlife Conservation Society, WCS, and ERUDEF have discovered new gorilla locations. We have also sensed that the total Cross River gorilla population is unlikely to go beyond 400 individuals in the wild," said Nkembi.
Citing a Cross River gorilla in captivity at the Limbe Wildlife Centre called "Nyango", the conservationist noted that poachers have continued to exist, regardless of the draconian wildlife laws.
"ERUDEF is poised to create more wildlife protected areas in Lebialem, with the full involvement of the community." Nkembi said.He stated further that he is determined to target unemployed youths during the Mount Cameroon Race, with the aim to develop a broad base of support in conservation of gorillas, nationally and internationally.
"For now the International Field Course on Biodiversity Conservation and the Great Apes Tracking will help those with very little or no experience in conservation to take up careers in this field. We have also launched the Forest Protection Fund Initiative to reconcile biodiversity conservation with poverty alleviation," Nkembi said.
On government's efforts to protect the migratory gorillas, he stated that the Cameroon Government and the Federal Government of Nigeria have embarked on a Regional Cooperation Agreement to protect the lives of gorillas at the borders.
"As a way forward for the protection of the gorilla population, the government should increase law enforcement and also involve the Last Great Ape Organisation (LAGA), as well as the local population in the fight against gorilla extinction," Nkembi stated.
He added that increased national and international awareness is needed not only to step up the number of committed individuals and communities but also to raise the much needed support that will enable the conservation actions to be realised.