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Drill issues with Cross River’s Drill Monkeys

The Drill Ranch is home to the endangered species of monkeys, known as Drill Monkeys. They are among Africa’s most endangered mammals and are listed…

The Drill Ranch is home to the endangered species of monkeys, known as Drill Monkeys. They are among Africa’s most endangered mammals and are listed as the highest conservation priority of all African primates. From facts recorded by the Wildlife Conservation Society its population is said to have dwindled to less than 10,000. A Nigerian-based conservation project has been running for twenty years, establishing a viable captive population at Drill Ranches across the state.

In spite of their declining numbers, they have proved to be a major spot of entertainment and touristic adventure for those who visit the Afi Mountains.

These primates are ‘semi-terrestrial monkeys, exhibiting extreme sexual dimorphism with males weighing up to 45 kg – three times the size of females. They are semi-nomadic seasonally and little is known of their behaviour or ecology in the wild. Their closest relative is the mandrill Mandrillus sphinx, found from southern Cameroon through mainland Equatorial Guinea (Rio Muni), Gabon and into Congo.  The two species are allopathic across the Sanaga River. On Bioko drills occur as unique subspecies Mandrillus leucophaeus poensis.’

The male drill is described as one of the most colourful monkeys in the world. As a full grown, he has a red chin on a black face with raised grooves exaggerating the shape of his nose. Spectacularly as well as humorously colourful, is his rear end which is a beautiful combination of pink, mauve and blue. They serve as attraction for visitors who come to his domain; but most importantly as guiding light for his family to help them follow him through the forest. ‘A single male leads a group of around 20 females and is father to all the young. This group of 20 may join others forming super groups of over 200 individuals.’

A report by Association Press narrates the state of affairs with the primates. “The vast majority of the drills, together with two dozen chimpanzees, are kept at the drill ranch on Afi Mountain, a good six hours’ drive north of Calabar and recently listed as a nature reserve, where Jenkins and Gadsby have opened a simple but beautifully laid-out eco-resort.

A suspended walkway allows visitors to walk through the rainforest canopy, 20 metres above ground. Accommodation is in huts on stilts open on all sides with only a roof to keep the rain off and heavy duty mosquito netting to keep the bugs out.

Drills have highly expressive smooth black faces. Males, who have luminous pink rear ends, typically weigh three times as much as females and can easily reach 45 kilos.

A male that is displeased will let you know with a head-bobbing display. Baring its teeth on the other hand, is a friendly gesture for a drill, even if its does entail showing canines that can reach almost 7 centimetres (2.5 inches).

Family groups have highly sophisticated social structures. Theoretically only the dominant male mates with the females in the group. Younger male upstarts attempt a coup from time to time.

The alpha male can only retain his position of dominance if the females are happy with him.

“We’ve had Nigerian big men come here and say Ah this is just like society used to be,’” Jenkins says dryly, before starting to rant on the incompetence of the Nigerian government.

“If the government did its job there’d be no reason for me to be here,” he said, drawing on a cigarette and admitting that after so many years here he and Liza would like to spend a bit more time in the United States.

Nigeria has wildlife protection laws, he says, but fails to implement them.

Gadsby in turn gets worked up about the impunity enjoyed by the notorious dealers in endangered wildlife who operate out of Nigeria.

Afi mountain ranch employs mostly locals and nearby communities have seen some economic benefits such as a well-maintained road. Accordingly, they have become more aware of the importance of wildlife conservation.

“Twenty years ago, everything except maybe human, was consumable,” said the vet in charge at Afi, Adeniyi Egbetade. “Over the past few years they’ve come to see drills, chimps and gorillas as animals that are better off living.” “We’re not saying ‘don’t hunt’,” we’re saying it’s got to be sustainable, so don’t kill say a porcupine that has babies,” he continued. “Last Christmas for example we heard just two gunshots whereas before at every full moon it was uncountable.”

There is now a taboo attached to killing drills on and around Afi Mountain. “If you kill a drill here you don’t tell your wife about it when you go home.”

Local people on the mountain, asked whether they eat other kinds of monkey, looked shocked but conceded that some people, but not they themselves, did previously eat monkey but they have now understood this is wrong.

The taboo however remains very local. An hour or so down the road in Ikom, at the bush-meat stall in the main market cured monkey is on sale along with red deer. The deer is sold at 1,800 naira (13 dollars, nine euros) per piece and the monkey at 2,000 naira per piece, the vendor says. “Those people who can afford it obviously prefer bush-meat,” says Jallal, a boy selling beef across the road.

Study by the Centre for Education, Research and Conservation of Primates and Nature (CERCOPAN) reveal that, ‘the drill is Africa’s most endangered primate. A mother drill only has one young every six years, and a hunter can easily kill 30 Drills in a day. They are also losing their forest home. There are only 100 drills in captivity in the whole world and these are mostly non-reproducing.’

With a mission to conserve Nigeria’s primates through sustainable rainforest conservation, community partnerships, education, primate rehabilitation and research, the Non Governmental Organisation has been able to retrieve some of these animals like Charlie who had been taken in as a pet.

The spokesperson for the group explained that, “We had received information that a drill monkey was being kept as a pet within the village.  Our first response was to inform Pandrillus, another primate organisation based in Calabar who specialise in drill monkey and chimpanzee rehabilitation.  Due to their current schedule and as Agoi is so close to our forest site, they asked us if we could go and remove the animal from the situation.  CERCOPAN will never buy an animal, as it encourages people to try to catch them for financial gain, and we try to avoid getting the police involved as it deters people getting in touch to donate animals already in their possession.  In these cases we try to negotiate with the owners and hope to persuade them to give up their animal, making them understand why it’s better for the individual and for them.

“When we first sent our CERCOPAN representative to see the owner we found it very hard to get our message across.  The owner did not want to give up the animal.  He said he had paid 4000 naira for the monkey, now a juvenile male named Chris, from a hunter back in January of this year.  He had been caring for it since then and it had been living in a small wooden box constructed from wooden planks at the side of his house.  The box only had some small holes to see out of and soon he would grow far too big for the box, as adult male drills grow to a huge size. “When our first approach was not working, we attempted to negotiate with someone who had the power to sway the owner’s opinion; the local chief of the village.  The chiefs of a village often have the final say in many decisions and solve many disputes involving village residents.  After consulting the chief he spoke to the owner and began to change the owner’s position on the situation.  To begin with the owner still wanted a reward in the form of guaranteed employment.  Again we had to explain that if we agreed to such terms we would continually have this problem in future situations, and inadvertently increase the number of primates removed from the forest when others decided to use them as a means of getting a job.

Eventually he understood our position and we reached an agreement whereby he would receive a certificate stating that he had donated the drill monkey to us.  We left to prepare a certificate and returned, again to a big discussion about the situation.  Luckily we still managed to make him see he was doing the best thing and Chris was handed over in front of a crowd of around 50 people.  In addition to his certificate we presented him with information leaflets about why it is wrong to hunt monkeys and a poster urging people to protect the highly endangered drill monkey.

Surviving mostly on fruit, herbs, roots and smaller animals, drill live in the rain forest drills have a lifespan of about 28 years and mark their territory by rubbing their chests onto trees to mark their territory.

Research also establishes that, ‘Drills are found only in Cross River State, Nigeria; south-western Cameroon; and on Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea. Their entire world range is less than 40,000 km2, smaller than Switzerland. Drill numbers have been declining in all known habitat areas for decades as a result of illegal commercial hunting, habitat destruction, and human development: as few as 3,000 drills may remain in the wild; the highest population estimate is 8,000.’

Drills have also been declining in zoos internationally CERCOPAN informs. “Drills are fully protected by law in Nigeria and Cameroon and portions of their habitat are technically safeguarded, however little real protection exists for drills or other endangered species that share their habitat.  

Drills will only survive the present and into the long term by the grace of their human neighbours, and the will and commitment of their host governments to enforce existing laws. As habitats shrink and become increasingly fragmented, the interactive management of wild and captive populations may play a crucial role.”

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