Ever thought escargot could aid an endangered animal? In West Africa, snails are taking on the role of savior to the apes that reside in Nigeria's Cross River National Park on the Cameroon border. USA Today reports on an effort to train former gorilla poachers to become productive farmers of giant snails. With funding and help from the Arcus Foundation of Kalamazoo, Mich., a great-ape conservation group, poachers are farming the five-inch gastropods. Why? Giant snails are a local delicacy that pull in more money than gorilla meat.  

James Deutsch, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Africa program, is assisting in the project. As he told USA Today, “People living near Cross River gorillas have trouble finding alternative sources of income and food, and that’s why they poach. We are working with them to test many livelihood alternatives, but perhaps the most promising, not to mention novel, is snail farming.” 

Further, it makes economic sense to farm snails over gorillas. Deutsch points out that snails can earn farmers about $413 a year, whereas the meat from one gorilla earns about $70.

Previous efforts have been attempted, with poachers encouraged to become beekeepers and mango farmers. But experts say this new effort might be more successful. The snails grow quickly and easily in low-maintenance cages filled with leafy greens. They live in easily constructed pens, each stocked with 230 snails. Eight former gorilla hunters from four villages are participating in this program. 

And how do the African snails taste? Deustch is optimistic. As he told USA Today, "I'm told they have a soapy flavor, but that's nothing a little garlic and chili wouldn't fix."

For further reading:

Snail farming aids endangered African gorilla
West African hunters harvest snails instead of hunting the great apes.