The Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) in collaboration with other conservationists working in the country have recently caught on camera images of chimpanzees in the Omo-Shasha-Oluwa (OSO) Forest, traversing Ogun, Osun and Ondo States.
The camera-trap photos are the first firm evidence of chimpanzees in South West Nigeria for over a decade and the discovery has been greeted with a lot of enthusiasm by conservationists.
The finding, according to a statement from the Foundation, has also been described as a surprise by experts on the project.
Commenting on the issue at the Foundation’s headquarters in Lagos over the weekend, the Director General of NCF, Mr. Adeniyi Karunwi, said that the deployment of camera traps and the positive results coming out are signs of NCF’s commitment to conserving the nation’s forest habitats with particular attention on the OSO Forest.
“This is part of NCF’s efforts to ensure the survival of species in the OSO Forest Reserve,” he declared.
This is as Dr. Andrew Bowkett from the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust, which also funds conservation work as a partner in the OSO Forest Initiative, said it was a tremendous news.
“It seemed likely that this population had gone extinct due to the dramatic increases in logging and hunting over the years. It has come as something of a surprise, as all previous reports indicated that the closest chimps were in a hilly area in a remote corner of the reserve far from where the camera-trap was set up,” added Bowkett.
He said further that the survival of chimpanzees and other large mammals in such a threatened forest so close to Lagos, considering the level of urbanization and deforestation, “gives us hope for the Initiative."
NCF, which employed most of the team members is on the steering committee for the project with the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust, which runs Paignton Zoo.
The Initiative was set up in response to the massive deforestation that has occurred in this region and the threats to the remaining wildlife through habitat loss and hunting. The camera-traps were set by the OSO Forest Initiative's field team as part of their biodiversity monitoring programme.
Conservationists have not seen chimps in the area since the early 2000s. There are very few populations of chimpanzees in South West Nigeria. Although they are considered part of the Cameroon-Nigerian subspecies more commonly found near the border between those countries, little is known about them genetically. This is the rarest subspecies of chimp, with an estimated 3,500 - 9,000 left in the wild, but only about 100 in the South West.
The OSO Forest Initiative is a partnership between the Nigerian Conservation Foundation, Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust and Forest Research Institute of Nigeria (FRIN) with the support of the Leventis Foundation and Environmental Resource Management, UK.