Humble snails are helping to prevent Cross River gorilla

poaching in Nigeria, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.

(Credit: 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.

(Cross River gorilla; Credit: NDR Naturfilm)

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.”

(Credit: Wildlife Conservation Society)

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.”