NEW YORK (April 28, 2010) — The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is testing a new, innovative approach to prevent Cross River gorilla poaching in Nigeria: snail farming. This unique initiative will help local people generate income, provide an alternative source of animal protein, and hopefully help eliminate illegal hunting of Africa’s rarest and most endangered great ape.
Funded by the Great Apes Program of the Arcus Foundation, eight former gorilla hunters were selected from four villages to participate in the new initiative. WCS helped construct snail pens, each of which was stocked with 230 African giant snails. Because of the snail’s high protein content, coupled with low maintenance costs, quick results, and easy replication, snail farming is expected to catch on quickly, according to WCS.
Snails are a local delicacy and the high demand for them in villages and larger communities makes the prospect of farming viable.
“People living near Cross River gorillas have trouble finding alternative sources of income and food and that’s why they poach,” said James Deutsch, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Africa program. “We are working with them to test many livelihood alternatives, but perhaps the most promising, not to mention novel, is snail farming.”
In Nigeria’s Cross River National Park, the critically endangered gorillas live in a protected area, but local villagers still sometimes venture into the forest and kill them for food known as bushmeat.
Once thought to be extinct, Cross River gorillas were rediscovered in the 1980s. The most endangered of the African apes, Cross River gorillas now number less than 300.
Since 1996, WCS has been leading global effort to save the Cross River gorilla, working with local partners across their range which spans the mountainous border of Nigeria and Cameroon.
In 2008, together with the government of Cameroon and other partners, WCS helped create Takamanda National Park, which safeguards a third of the Cross River gorilla population.
The operation cost per year for each snail farmer, after necessary replacement of nets and cement and labor costs, is estimated at only $87. The profit, after expenses, with the sale of an average of 1500 snails per bi-annual harvest, is estimated at $413 per year. The meat of one gorilla, on the other hand, fetches about $70.
Although most hunters will kill anything they can find, the potential profit from snail farming likely exceeds the profits from bush meat trade. The fact that profits from snail farming are regular and guaranteed makes it all the more attractive option. Thus snail farming should improve the lives of the people living near Cross River National Park while giving them a more profitable alternative to gorilla hunting.
With additional funding from the Great Ape Conservation Fund of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Berggorilla and Regenwald Direkthilfe, WCS plans to extend the snail-farming project to other Cross River gorilla sites in Nigeria such as the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary and the Mbe Mountains later this year.
“Cross-River gorillas depend on law enforcement and conservation efforts to survive,” says Andrew Dunn, WCS Nigeria Country Director. “The work of WCS and our dedicated field-staff to develop alternate livelihoods for local poachers is just one step on the road to recovery for these incredible animals.”
Along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Great Ape Conservation Fund, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. State Department have supported gorilla conservation efforts through the Congo Basin Forest Partnership and Central African Regional Program for the Environment. In January 2010, Deutsch testified before Congress in support of the reauthorization of H.R. 4416, the Great Ape Conservation Act, which would ensure programs like those that protect the Cross River gorilla continue to succeed.
The President’s FY11 budget calls for a reduction in funds for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Multinational Species Conservation Funds, which include monies for great apes, rhinos, tigers, elephants, and sea turtles. WCS urges Congress to provide a modest increase in funds in FY11, including $2.5 million for the Great Ape Conservation Fund, to meet the conservation challenges facing great apes such as increased habitat loss, deforestation, logging, mining, and other human activities.
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