Critically endangered western lowland gorillas pictured in the wild
Wild western lowland gorillas have been pictured in an area of Equatorial Guinea for the first time in more than a decade.
The images, caught by camera traps, show curious young gorillas deep in their jungle home in central Rio Muni.
They were taken by one of a series of cameras set up by conservationists from Bristol Zoological Society and the University of the West of England.
Western lowland gorillas are listed as critically endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List.
Dr Grainne McCabe, head of conservation and field science at Bristol Zoological Society, described the images as a “career highlight”.
She said it was particularly exciting to see young gorillas, estimated to be about four years old, as this shows that a new generation has been born and appears to be thriving.
“It is a huge milestone for the project as it confirms their existence here, despite heavy hunting pressure in this forest,” said Dr McCabe.
“Levels of poaching in the park are very high and so we have always been very concerned that they are at risk of being hunted into extinction in this area.”
In 2005, it was estimated that around 2,000 western lowland gorillas lived in the area but current numbers are unknown.
Other primates, including mandrills, are heavily hunted in the area for bush meat, which is a delicacy in the cities of Central Africa.
The photographs taken will be crucial in helping to establish a conservation plan for the park, Dr McCabe said.
“We will be able to work alongside the national park to find areas where patrols should be targeted to prevent poaching for example,” she added.
“Eventually, if poaching can be controlled, we may be able to help bring back eco-tourism to the area.”
Bristol Zoological Society’s field team is currently in Equatorial Guinea putting more cameras up, with 30 cameras due to be in place across the national park range by Easter.
The dwindling population of wild western lowland gorillas is reflected across five other African countries – Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo and Gabon.