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Gorilla Habituation Process Begins In Lobeke 

By Fidelis Pegue Manga — WWF Japan has begun a process of possible habituation of gorillas in Lobeke National Park, situated in the southeast of Cameroon. Naobi Okayasu, Chief Coordinator, Network Priority Places/Species Team, WWF Japan, says they have identified a group of gorillas with high potentials for habituation.

After visiting Petite Savane, and Djangui forest clearings and Djembe, a base camp inside the park in July 2012, Naobi says she has discovered a place that harbours a family of gorillas that could be suitable for habituation. “Some 24km from Djembe, there is an area where we can see gorillas all the time. They are always there,” Naobi said.

“We do not know the reason why but they are always there. Each time the gorillas hear the sound of vehicles, they come out and watch, so they already got used to seeing us. This is important for the habituation process,” she said. “Gorillas are the ones to choose whether to accept human presence or not, it is not the other way round. The habituation team thus began following this group of gorillas between April and May, 2013.

On May 24, the team came across this same group of six gorillas on the same spot from a distance of about 500 meters. “The gorillas stopped and the male started hooting. They were not afraid, they were like telling us to go away,” Naobi said. The team approached the gorillas as close as 30 metres, but the apes did not flee. “This is a good sign,” Naobi said. The team spent three hours with the gorillas.

A team will have to track the gorillas for three months beginning June 2013. “We have to have particular team of three people because gorillas learn by smell, and if we increase team members to say 10, the gorillas might get confused and this is not good for habituation,” Naobi explained. Another area in the Park that has high potentials for habituation is the Djembe base camp, where gorillas come to eat fruits. Initially the Lobeke project team thought Petite Savane forest clearing could be for the habituation of gorillas.

But Naobi discovered it was not because gorillas in this clearing have learnt to keep a distance from humans on the observation tower. Should habituation become a reality, it might boost eco-tourism in Lobeke, thereby contributing to economic development of surrounding local communities. “Gorillas are one of the flagship species in central Africa that attract a lot of tourists, so habituation in Lobeke could make the park a tourists’ destination,” said Naobi.

First published in The Post print edition no 01444

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