19 JUNE 2024 (Lagos) – Trail cameras in the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary have captured stunning footage of the world’s rarest great ape – the Cross River gorilla. The extraordinary sightings mark the first successful photos since three graduate students at the University of Calabar in Nigeria began studying this elusive subspecies last year as part of the Cross River Gorilla initiative.

“Hiking into the Afi Mountain Sanctuary, I was filled with excitement at the prospect of seeing a Cross River gorilla in its natural habitat. While I may not have encountered one face-to-face, the images and videos captured by the camera traps are an incredible glimpse into the life of these elusive and magnificent creatures.” said Dr. Mary Liao, Conservation Manager, the Wilder Institute. “”I am incredibly impressed by Cole for his collaboration with local hunters and eco-guards to strategically place the traps, showcasing a perfect blend of scientific and community knowledge and embodying the essence of inclusive conservation.”

The two Silverback (mature males) gorillas were spotted in different parts of the sanctuary: one in the southern portion of the sanctuary and one in the northern portion. The sanctuary is in Boki LGA, Cross River State. Researchers were particularly excited about the capture at the northern portion due to the higher level of human activity in that area.

“This sighting is more than just a visual success,” Adekambi Cole Adeyinka, M.Sc student from the Department of Forestry and Wildlife (University of Calabar) said. “It underscores the importance of community involvement and innovative research in conservation. By working closely with local communities, we are not only gathering crucial data but also fostering a deeper understanding and commitment to protecting these incredible great apes and their habitat.”

In 2022, a 5-years Community Conservation Graduate Student Scholarship Programme for the Conservation of Cross River Gorilla funded by the Wilder Institute – Calgary Zoo, implemented by the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) in partnership with the Centre for Biodiversity Conservation Research (CBCR) was started at the University of Calabar. The programme involves supporting graduate research projects in Nigeria, including scholarships for one Ph.D. student and four master’s students at the University of Calabar over a period of five years.

This collaborative initiative extends beyond borders, with a partnership with the Centre for Biodiversity Conservation Research (CBCR) in Ghana to allow an exchange programme for knowledge sharing of the practices that create successful community conservation initiatives.

In early 2023, scholarships were awarded to the first set of postgraduate students; one Ph.D and two M.Sc students from the Department of Forestry and Wildlife Management, University of Calabar.

“As NCF, we appreciate our partners, the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo, the Centre for Biodiversity Conservation Research, and the University of Calabar for their invaluable support to this initiative. The success of this initiative underscores the significance of collaborative partnerships in addressing the challenges faced by wildlife and their habitats and achieving sustainable wildlife conservation. We are also hopeful that this initiative will contribute to the realization of the objectives of our Strategic Pillar of Saving Species in peril.” Dr. Joseph Onoja, DG of NCF.

 “Mr. Cole Adekanbi has found promising results that demonstrate the power of collaboration to save the severely endangered cross river gorilla. The capture of two silverback gorillas on trail cameras in the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary emphasises the need for innovative technology, collaborative study, and community engagement to safeguard this fragile species and its environment. These findings highlight the sanctuary’s vital role in gorilla protection and the need for more research and collaboration to conserve the Cross River gorilla and the region’s rich biodiversity. I am convinced that our graduate students will greatly improve our understanding and protection efforts for these amazing species. I urge the scientific community, conservation organisations, and stakeholders at all levels to support and extend this essential effort to protect one of the world’s rarest and most fragile species.” Professor Francis Bisong, University of Calabar. Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Secretary of the Cross River gorilla conservation project advisory committee.

Video Credit: Adekambi Cole Adeyinka, an M.Sc student of the Department of Forestry and Wildlife, University of Calabar. Supervisor: Associate Prof. Nchor Ayuk.

About Cross River Gorillas

The Cross River gorilla is a subspecies of the western gorilla and was classified as a new species in 1904.  Its critical status remained largely overlooked until population surveys commenced in 1987. Historically subjected to hunting and facing threats of habitat loss, these critically endangered great apes now inhabit only 11 fragmented regions within the mountainous rainforests of Nigeria and Cameroon. Fewer than 250 mature individuals were estimated to remain in the wild as of 2014.  Every new sighting provides vital data and hope for the species’ survival.

About the Cross River Gorilla initiative

The Cross River Gorilla initiative, launched in 2022, aims to bridge the gap between conservation efforts and community engagement. Led by the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) and the Centre for Biodiversity Conservation Research (CBCR) with funding from the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo, the program equips Nigerian graduate students with the skills and knowledge necessary to lead future conservation efforts. Through structured studies, workshops, training, and internships, participants receive a comprehensive learning experience, actively engaging and sharing information with forest communities fostering their support and involvement in the protection of the Cross River gorilla and its habitat.

The Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) is the foremost Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) dedicated to nature conservation and sustainable development in Nigeria. Established in 1980, the Foundation was registered in 1982 as a Charitable Trust. Founded by late Chief S. L. Edu, NCF has its patron as the President and Commander- In-Chief of the Armed Force of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Foundation has a vision of “a Nigeria where people prosper while living in harmony with nature”. This vision drives its Mission to preserve the full range of Nigeria’s biodiversity which includes species, ecosystems and genetic biodiversity; promote the sustainable use of natural resources for the benefit of present and future generations; and advocate actions that minimise pollution and wasteful utilisation of renewable resources.

The Wilder Institute is a global authority on wildlife conservation, reintroducing threatened species to the wild and empowering communities to conserve their own natural resources to positively impact both nature and communities. The staff and volunteers of Wilder Institute are passionate about restoring a balance to wildlife and human life, together. Using innovative science, our team is working to save threatened and endangered species and return them to the wild, where our planet needs them to be. We proudly own and operate the Archibald Biodiversity Centre, a one-of-a-kind conservation breeding and research facility. Our conservation expertise is in conservation breeding and community conservation, where we collaborate with community members to positively impact both nature and local communities. Learn more at to join us in making the world a wilder place.

Oladapo Soneye

Head Communication, NCF

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