Drills in the Ebo Forest, Cameroon

Thanks to the recent installation of 20 trail cameras in the Ebo forest, Cameroon, we are starting to view some amazing wildlife footage. Most recently, a large “horde” of one of the most spectacular and endangered primate species in Africa, the drill, was captured moving through the dense forest. The images included large adult males and females, juveniles and babies.

Drills are mostly terrestrial primates that spend their day scouring the forest floor for fruits, insects, and anything else that might be edible, often breaking apart dead wood to look for grubs, though they also eat fruits in the canopy when pausing from their travels. The adult males are very large, with spectacular colors adorning their faces as well as their rear ends! The males also have extremely long canine teeth, evident during “yawning” displays—not a sign of tiredness, but rather a warning to all onlookers that they are able to inflict damage if provoked. These large males jealously guard and protect their extended families of multiple females and offspring as they move through the forest. 

Large male drill in Pandrillus sanctuary, Nigeria.

The San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG) Central Africa Program has been studying and conserving drills in Cameroon for 20 years. During that time, we have led the way to understand the remaining populations of this animal across its range in Cameroon, its last remaining stronghold. We visited more than 50 remaining forests in Cameroon where drills were historically present to evaluate whether drills still existed, and the conservation value of each of the forests.

We found that the Ebo forest, where we now concentrate much of our fieldwork, is home to one of the healthiest remaining populations of drills, as attested by these images. This may be due to the fact that the area is extremely mountainous, with very steep slopes and rocky outcrops known as inselbergs, which has protected the area from land conversion for logging and/or agriculture as has been seen in many other areas. The challenging terrain also restricts the ability of hunters with dogs to track the drills over long distances. 

Thus despite the challenges of large-scale land use changes in Central Africa toward oil palm plantations and mining activities, sights like this are firm evidence that drills can be resilient in forests where communities are working hard to protect such endangered species. SDZG’s Central Africa Program has been working with communities around the Ebo forest since 2002 in many ways, to protect the amazing wildlife. In a previous blog, we outlined how we work with communities to protect the area of the Ebo forest where gorillas exist; given the enormous conservation challenges faced across the drill’s range, we continue to work with these communities to preserve the species, so that future generations can continue to see these large groups of drills moving across the forest.

The Central Africa Program is a San Diego Zoo Global field research effort established in 2005. Read the previous blog, Gorillas in the Ebo Forest. Learn more about the Central Africa Program and our other global field stations here.