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Satellite study reveals critical habitat and corridors for world's rarest gorilla
Date:1/31/2012

to determine the extent of the Cross River gorilla's habitat. The entire Cross River region was divided into 30 x 30 meter pixels, and each pixel was rated in terms of its suitability as gorilla habitat (with steep, forested areas of low human activity receiving a high rating, and lowland areas more significantly impacted by people receiving a low rating). These ratings were translated into a habitat suitability map for the area.

With the new habitat suitability map to guide them, the team then selected 12 locations possessing all the characteristics of gorilla habitat (mainly forested landscapes far from human settlements) for field surveys. Most of these areas had no previous record of gorillas, but to their surprise, the team found signs of gorilla presence (in the form of gorilla dung and nests) in 10 of the 12 sites, thereby confirming the value of using satellite image analysis to predict suitable habitat and to prioritize areas in which to conduct further surveys.

Overall, the findings of the study represent a significant expansion of known Cross River gorilla range. The area now known to be occupied by gorillas is more than 50 percent larger than had previously been documented. The findings also support recent genetic analyses that suggest a high degree of connectivity between the 11 known locations where gorillas occur.

The study also located parts of the population under threat from isolation through fragmentation. For example, Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary in Nigeria, which contains a significant portion of the Cross River gorilla population, is only tenuously connected to the nearest sub-population of gorillas by farmland and other forms of habitat degradation.

"For small populations such as this one, the maintenance of connective corridors is crucial for their long term survival," said WCS researcher Inaoyom Imong. "The analysis is the first step in devising ways to rehabilitate degraded pathways."

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Contact: John Delaney
jdelaney@wcs.org
718-220-3275
Wildlife Conservation Society
Source:Eurekalert  

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