History will be made in the next couple of weeks in Nigeria when no fewer than 126 captive drill monkeys are released into the wild.
The “lucky” animals have been in captive for several years at the Drill Ranch in Afi, Cross River State, where a programme to protect the flora and fauna of the expansive Afi Mountain Forest thrives. Established in 1988, the Ranch is home to some 350 drill monkeys and 50 chimpanzees.
But observers are expressing fears that, upon their release into the wild, they would be exposed and at the mercy of hunters.
According to operator of the conservation facility, Peter Jenkins, the primates had shown certain qualities that indicated that they were ripe for release. He said they have displayed the ability to survive within themselves.
Ranch veterinary doctor Majeed Bajeh stated that the primates, classified as endangered species, were obtained from individual, who in most cases were maltreating them. He said the ones earmarked for release were in good state of health.
But conservation communication expert Paddy Ezeala expresses fears over the wellbeing of the primates in the wild when eventually set free.
He said, “It is a commendable development. But the case of Tunde the antelope is still very fresh in our mind. Maybe they are safer within the protective confines of the Ranch.”
Drills are among Africa’s most endangered mammals, and are listed by the IUCN as the highest conservation priority of all African primates. Found only in Cross River State; southwestern Cameroon; and on Bioko Island in Equatorial Guinea, drill numbers are said to be declining in all known habitat areas for decades as a result of illegal commercial hunting, habitat destruction and human development.
The Nigerian chimpanzee is regarded as the most endangered subspecies with a population estimate as low as 6,000 individuals out of a continent-wide species population estimate of 235,000. The country has been tagged a hub for illicit chimpanzee trafficking in Africa, with many animals being smuggled into the country from Cameroon for domestic and international trade.
Pandrillus founders Liza Gadsby and Peter Jenkins began work in Nigeria and Cameroon in 1988. They soon after embraced the challenge of preventing the extinction of the highly endangered drill monkey Mandrillus leucophaeus. Since then, the mission of Pandrillus has expanded to include chimpanzees and other wildlife that share the drill’s habitat in the Cross-Sanaga region, a small area in the heart of Africa with exceptionally high primate diversity.