In what is described as the best footage to date, the elusive Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli) has been caught on tape. The video above, from conservationists at the Kagwene Gorilla Sanctuary in Cameroon, shows the primates milling about in their natural state. One adult can be seen loping towards the camera, beating his chest, while another drags along with only one hand, possibly the result of a snare injury.
While the gorillas' behavior may seem unremarkable, the video shows "the most endangered African ape," according to WCS. “This video gives us all a spectacular view into the hidden world of one of our closest relatives, which is in dire need of our help to survive,” Steve Sanderson, WCS President and CEO, said in a press release.
“A person can study these animals for years and never even catch a glimpse of the gorillas, much less see anything like this,” explained Christopher Jameson, Director of WCS’s Takamanda Mone Landscape Project.
Thought to be extinct until they were rediscovered in the mid-20th century, the Cross River gorillas live in the mountains on the Cameroon-Nigeria border and struggle with a population of less than 300 individuals. They are listed as “critically endangered" on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and are one of the 25 most endangered primates.
Although Scientific American notes that the Cross River gorilla habitat is larger than previously thought, the animals still suffer from environmental and physical threats. A mountainous habitat means that the Cross River species is isolated from others of their kind, with the western lowland gorilla (their geographically and genetically closest relative) 155 miles away, explains World Wildlife Fund. The Illegal bushmeat trade and habitat loss also put these animals at serious risk. And even with a protected environment, gorillas breed slowly, usually giving birth to only one infant every four to five years.
Established in 2008, the Kagwene Gorilla Sanctuary was formed by the Cameroonian government solely to protect this threatened species. “Spectacular footage such as this, which we’ve never had before for Cross River gorillas, is absolutely vital to inspire local people, the governments of Nigeria and Cameroon, and the global community to care about and to save this unique subspecies,” Dr. James Deutsch, Executive Director for WCS’s Africa Program explained in a press release. “Continued research of this kind will help fine-tune management plans to protect this rarest of apes.”