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Diehli Initiative, ERuDeF To Track Endangered Cross River Gorilla 

By Azore Opio

Diehli Initiative, a new project of Czech nature scientists, has struck a partnership with Cameroonian NGO, ERuDeF (Environment and Rural Development Foundation) to endeavour to conserve unaffected ecosystems, especially the least known critically endangered subspecies of gorilla, the Cross River Gorilla (gorilla diehli) in the Cross River Basin.

Documentarist, photographer and zoologist, Tom Junek, also gorilla and ape keeper of ZOO Prague Marek Zdansky, and environmentalist focused on tropics and subtropics, Pavla Vymyslicka, started on the mission in the Southwest Region at the beginning of November 2010. The Cross River Gorillas, 250 individuals, which live in the less explored area around the borders of Cameroon and Nigeria, where fauna of west and central tropical Africa intermixes, are threatened by poachers.

Junek and Pavla hope to take the first proper photo of these animals in the wild as they track them in the following weeks. The aim of the Diehli Initiative is to explore the southernmost Cross River Gorilla population in the area of Fossimondi and financial, media and scientific support of current activities of ERuDeF would lead to the declaration of a protected area.

This may also create opportunities to track the endangered gorillas of the Cross River Basin and appreciate the bond that exists between them and us. It would also bring home the poignant fact that they are on the edge of extinction, and that human presence in their habitats contributes to ensuring their continued survival. It is within this context that ERuDeF is proposing a conservation and community development intervention strategy, Tofala Hill Community Wildlife Sanctuary, with a dozen villages involved.

For instance, in the M’mouck villages, there will be a comprehensive strategy to address their market gardening sector acute problems, while in the Bamumbu clan a new emerging project on the development of an Integral Ecological Reserve over Mt. bamboutos will be taken up in addition to an intensive agro-forestry programme. This outline remains a reflection and a baseline on which further discussions on the development of a long-term integrated conservation and development plan of each of the respective villages and the entire Sanctuary area will be based.

ERuDeF will continue to administer its much cherished survey focus on the long-term development of the local communities and their forests known as the "Survey of the Future of Our Forests and Communities". Meanwhile, the gorilla research and conservation project in this area started when a sub-population of the Cross River gorillas was discovered in 2004. Between then and 2009, surveys of distribution and status of these gorillas was the main activity.

The current knowledge of the surveys shows that there are about 20-40 gorillas in this forest. In 2008 ERuDeF started a quarterly bio-monitoring of the gorillas and this year, it moved to a monthly bio-monitoring of the gorillas to maintain close data on the activities of these species, threats to their habitats, their habitat needs and their connectivity requirements. From this year on, ERuDeF is supporting the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife to create a safer home for the conservation of the Cross River gorillas and other endangered wildlife species such as chimpanzees, Drills, Red-ear monkeys, etc, and red data plants.

This safer home is the proposed Tofala Hill Community Wildlife Sanctuary covering 12 villages of which eight are found in Wabane Sub-division and four in Alou Sub-division. The process of creating this Sanctuary, will involve extensive consultations with the local communities (elites, villagers, local administration and other technical services).

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