Humble snails are helping to prevent Cross River gorilla poaching in Nigeria, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.
The WCS has just launched a new program that promotes snail farming, which helps local people generate income, provides an alternative source of animal protein, and hopefully will eliminate illegal hunting of what is Africa’s rarest and most endangered great ape.
Eight former gorilla hunters were selected from four villages to participate in the new initiative. With help from the WCS, they’ve constructed 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.
Just as French chefs prize snails, locals there view these gastropods as a 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.”
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. Even if just a handful are taken as bushmeat, the killings can really put a dent in the gorilla’s already weakened population.
Get this: 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.
“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.”