The Year of the Gorilla has culminated in an exciting victory for conservationists – professional video footage of the rarest and most camera-shy of all great apes.

The elusive Cross River gorilla hasn’t been eager to step into the spotlight. The animals’ natural fear of humans, compounded by their endangered status and the treacherous terrain of their habitat, has made them difficult to observe — but patience finally paid off for Germany’s NDR Naturfilm.

"These gorillas are extremely wary of humans and are very difficult to photograph or film," said Dr. Roger Fotso, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's (WCS) Cameroon Program.

"Eventually, we identified and staked out some of the gorillas favorite fig trees, which is where we finally achieved our goal."

But the thrill of finally videotaping such a shy animal wasn’t the only reason the team spent so many weeks on the effort. NDR Naturfilm hopes the tape will help raise awareness of the imperiled apes, and of the work done by WCS.

Fewer than 300 Cross River apes are known to exist across the subspecies’ entire range in Cameroon and Nigeria.

Hunting and habitat destruction have dramatically reduced the gorillas’ numbers over the last 200 years, and they’re currently classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN’s Red List.

"These extraordinary images are vital for the fight to save the world's least known and rarest ape as well as the mountain rain forest on which they depend," said Dr. James Deutsch, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Africa Program.

"Over the past 20 years, local communities, the governments of Cameroon and Nigeria, funders, and committed conservationists have laid the foundation for a great conservation success story. We hope these pictures will introduce to the world the lead players in this story, the Cross River gorillas themselves."