Pandrillus…The Race To Save The Big Three – Gorilla, Drill And Chimpanzee

pandrillsIN the 1980s, drills were believed by the international scientific community to be extinct in Nigeria and on Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea.

The only known population was in Korup National Park, Cameroun. In zoos in Europe and the USA drills bred poorly and their population was also in decline.

No long-term studies in the wild had been achieved and little was known of their biology, ecology or even where they could be found. Drills were listed by the IUCN as the highest priority African primate for conservation action.

When the founders, Liza Gadsby and Peter Jenkins, began work in Nigeria and Cameroun in 1988, they embraced the challenge of preventing the extinction of the highly endangered drill monkey Mandrillus leucophaeus.

With the formation of Pandrillus, a conservation organisation based in Nigeria and Cameroun, they have dedicated their efforts towards promoting the survival of the highly endangered drill (Mandrillus leucophaeus) and providing a safe haven for orphaned chimpanzees.

The name Pandrillus comes from the genus for the species Mandrillus, and the Latin word for ‘all’, Pan. The mission of Pandrillus encompasses all drills — those in captivity and the wild. Pandrillus’ projects use a multi-faceted approach, combining in situ and ex situ activities, including: habitat protection, captive care and breeding, research, training, small scale development schemes, education and positive advocacy, all aimed at promoting the drill as a species and wildlife conservation generally.

Projects collaborate with state and national governments, communities, traditional rulers, other international and local NGOs, zoos, advisory groups, and the private sector to achieve these goals.


Senator Imoke(former Governor, Cross River State and Peter Jenkins at the Drill Ranch, Calabar.

Pandrillus Foundation is registered in the USA as a non-profit organisation. As a non-profit, all of its funding goes towards feeding the animals, paying local staff salaries, and other expenses associated with animal care.

It was also part of a landmark achievement in 2003 when two adolescent female gorillas were smuggled into Nigeria from Cameroun and later seized by government authorities.

The two governments collaborated in the protection of wildlife smuggling and coordination on environmental issues. Nigeria is sadly a large centre for wildlife trafficking, and Pandrillus works with law enforcement to try to reduce such activities.

The foundation recognises the importance in the cooperation of surrounding communities and has created an education programme for the surrounding 17 villages, bringing them together for a conservation-based interest for the first time. In fact, the Drill ranch is largest private employer in the Boki Local Council of Cross River State.

The efforts do not stop there. Pandrillus worked with the Camerounian government to create the Limbe Wildlife Centre that is home to 15 different primate species in which Pandrillus and the Camerounian government share the management responsibilities.

Since then, the mission of the foundation 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.


Liza Gadsby with young drill monkeys

In 1993, it started community protection patrols using local hunters to discourage shooting and trapping, an education program in the 17 villages surrounding the mountain, and brought the communities together as a common interest group for the first time.

The foundation also played a vital role in the permanent closure of the Calabar Zoo, removing its last captive animal and transporting it to their Afi Mountain Drill Ranch facility.

The organisation continued lobbying the Cross River State Government to regazette this portion of the forest reserve as a wildlife sanctuary.

In 1996, Liza won the prestigious Whitley Award for the world’s best wildlife conservation project, based on the combined activities at Afi. The Afi Mountain was then part of the Afi River Forest Reserve (383 sq km), a production forest reserve for which logging concessions had been issued.

The community protection programme prevailed and made great strides in controlling hunting, in particular developing popular support for protection of “The Big Three” – gorilla, drill and chimpanzee. “Pandrillus houses a Drill rehabilitation and breeding centre, where animals that have been orphaned or held in captivity are nursed back to health.

The centre has recorded over 250 births, making the project the world’s most successful captive breeding program for an endangered primate.

This centre also treats and serves another bushmeat-effected primate, Chimpanzees. “Founded in 1991, the centre is the region’s first primate rehab project.

Illegally held drills orphaned by hunting are donated by local citizens or handed over after seizure by authorities; no animals are purchased or removed from the wild,” said Jenkins.

Over 75 drills have been recovered, and rehabilitated to life with members of their own species, after thorough medical screening. In western zoos, drills have reproduced poorly, but the DRBC has recorded over 250 births to rehabilitated wild born parents and their offspring, making the project the world’s most successful captive breeding program for an endangered primate.

After being rehabilitated or having matured, the primates are then introduced to the Drill Ranch at Afi Mountain, the project’s field site that serves as a highly protected wildlife sanctuary.

The project has two sites. The original site in Calabar, the Cross River State capital is where it all began. Today, “Drill Ranch Calabar” serves as the project headquarters, office, and quarantine facility for new animals and the veterinary surgery, with housing for the directors and rotating volunteer staff. Said Jenkins: “One of the project’s six drill breeding groups is also here so everyone who lives in or visits the state capital has the opportunity to see drills.

This group now numbers over 39 animals in four generations, including the first drill, named ‘Calabar’, now a great grandmother.” “There are about 500 drill monkeys, each in their own natural habitat electrified enclosures, there are six of them.

Two groups are in Calabar and four are up in the bush. We also have 30 chimpanzees now and all have been released into their brand new 30+ Acre forested enclosure,” said Jenkins.

Drill Ranch is also home to 28 orphan chimpanzees. As man’s closest relative, the chimpanzees add greatly to visitor education by stimulating interest and sympathy for wildlife.

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