02 23/02/2018

Wildlife hangs on in Nigeria’s last wilderness

Research led by Chester Zoo, working with the Nigeria National Park Service and local communities, has revealed the continued presence of a remarkable diversity of rare and endangered mammals including chimpanzees, leopards, the elusive golden cat and the first discovery of giant pangolins in Nigeria.

  • Research led by Chester Zoo in Gashaka Gumti National Park (GGNP), Nigeria, has revealed the continued presence of a remarkable diversity of rare and endangered mammals including chimpanzees, leopards, the elusive golden cat and the first discovery of giant pangolins
  • Chester Zoo has been supporting GGNP, the largest National Park in Nigeria, since 1994, intensifying their efforts in 2015 to address the growing threats to the park’s wildlife
  • The research has been carried out in partnership with the Nigeria National Park Service (NNPS) and local communities
  • Camera trap surveys over the past two years have captured 50,000 photos, revealing the incredible biodiversity within the national park and uncovered species unknown to be present in Nigeria

Chester Zoo conservationists in partnership with the Nigeria National Park Service surveyed over 1000 square kilometers of the under-explored forests of Gashaka Gumti National Park in Nigeria using camera traps and reconnaissance surveys.

Ranging in size from mice to buffalos, the photos revealed the presence of over 30 mammals within the borders of the national park including three species of duiker, honey badgers, bushbuck, forest buffalo, red river hogs, giant forest hogs, mongoose, potto (a small nocturnal primate), a variety of monkeys and West African crocodiles. Some of the species photographed had never been recorded in the national park or in Nigeria before.

Gashaka Gumti National Park Is located in Taraba state Nigeria spanning 6731km2, nearly four times the size of Greater London, and is considered one of West Africa’s biodiversity hotspots.

Since 2016, the team has carried out approximately 500km of reconnaissance walks of the extremely rugged southern sector of the park and using camera traps they have captured over 50,000 images of the park’s wildlife.

Stuart Nixon, research leader and the zoo’s Africa Field Programme Coordinator said:

Gashaka Gumti National Park is staggeringly beautiful with an amazing diversity of habitats including mountain rainforests, savannah woodlands and rolling grasslands, but incredibly in 2018 it still remains little explored. The ongoing work we are carrying out is key to helping us develop a better understanding of the park, its wildlife and how to help conserve it. It’s an extremely exciting work to be involved with.

Gashaka Gumti National Park is home to the endangered Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee, the rarest of all chimpanzee subspecies. It is believed to support one of the largest remaining populations, making it a high priority for the species’ survival, but there have been no population surveys for 20 years. 

Stuart added:

All of Africa’s remaining great ape populations are in serious danger of extinction from hunting, habitat loss, disease and the negative effects of climate change. Gashaka Gumti National Park is a priority site for chimpanzees, not just in Nigeria but for the entire continent so we need to know more about how many still survive in the park, what threatens their survival and find the key areas where we need to focus our conservation efforts.

The surveys have revealed the first confirmed record of giant pangolins in Nigeria, the largest, least known and rarest of all the African pangolins. Pangolins are a group of scaled mammals, sometimes known as ‘scaly anteaters’, widely trafficked for their meat which is considered a delicacy in some countries and their scales which are widely used for ethno-medicinal and cultural purposes.

The team also captured the first photographic evidence of leopards in the park. Notoriously secretive, leopards are known to have drastically declined across Nigeria due to hunting and habitat loss and it is possible that Gashaka supports one of the most significant leopard populations remaining in West Africa. The research has also captured many images of the African golden cat in the park, Africa’s most elusive cat species. Data on this rainforest species is limited, so the results of this research are adding to existing global knowledge.

In addition to collecting crucial data on the biodiversity in the park and constructing a park education centre, during 2017 Chester Zoo experts worked closely with the NNPS to support and build up the capacity of the park rangers, providing essential training in wildlife monitoring and protection, equipping ranger teams, and funding important anti-poaching patrols across the park.

Ashley Vosper, a protected area and wildlife survey expert from Chester Zoo who led the training said:

Ultimately rangers are the first and last line of defence for this park, so it’s hugely important that they have the right skills and equipment to plan patrols that deter illegal activities and collect important data on wildlife and threats. The landscape here is incredibly challenging but the rangers have adapted extremely well both physically and mentally and their work is really helping to improve the level of protection. It is a small but significant great step forward for the future success of the park.

In December 2017, as part of on-going training, a Chester Zoo led exploration team penetrated deep into the forests on the slopes of the park’s and West Africa’s highest mountain, Gangirwal, spending ten days documenting wildlife and identifying the threats to its survival. The exercise confirmed that the park still supports a high biodiversity but worryingly showed that threats from humans, including poaching and cattle herding, are occurring deep into remote areas of the forest.

Yohanna Saidu of the Nigerian Park service and Chief Warden of Gashaka Gumti National Park said:

Gashaka Gumti National Park is an incredible part of Nigeria’s natural heritage and there are few places in Africa that can rival its spectacular beauty, but it survives barely known by the international community and under increasing threat. This work is helping us learn more about the secrets of one of our last wilderness areas and we must continue to work together to ensure its survival for future generations. If all this beauty were lost it would be a terrible tragedy for all.

Chester Zoo has been supporting the Gashaka Gumti National Park since 1994, carrying out the first studies of chimpanzees in 1997. Since then the zoo has funded various conservation activities in the park, including core funding to the UCL led Gashaka Primate Project. Since 2015 the zoo has worked directly with the National Park authorities to address the growing threats to the park’s wildlife.