The Cross River National Park is a national park of Nigeria, located in Cross River State, Nigeria. There are two separate sections, Okwangwo (established 1991) and Oban (established 1988). The park has a total area of about 4,000 km2, most of which consists of primary moist tropical rainforests in the North and Central parts, with mangrove swamps on the coastal zones. Parts of the park belong to the Guinea-Congolian region, with a closed canopy and scattered emergent trees reaching 40 or 50 meters in height.
The park has one of the oldest rainforests in Africa, and has been identified as a biodiversity hot spot. Sixteen primate species have been recorded in the park. Rare primates include common chimpanzees, drills and (in Okwangwo) Cross River gorillas. Another primate, the gray-cheeked mangabey, seems to have recently[when?] become extinct in the area.
Both divisions of the park are threatened by illegal logging, slash and burn farming and poaching. Eco-tourism may support efforts to preserve the park fauna. Assisting villagers in buffer zones to practice sustainable forestry also holds promise.
Location and Size:
Cross River National Park is located between Latitude 5o 05’ and 6o 29’ N, and Longitudes 8o 15’ and 9o 30’ E, in the extreme south-eastern corner of Nigeria, in Cross River State. It covers a total area of about 4000sq km of mainly primary moist tropical rainforest ecosystem in the North and central parts, and montane mosaic vegetation on the Obudu Plateau. It is Nigeria’s last Great Rainforest Reserve, and the closest to the Mangrove Swamps on the coastal region.
The Park’s Ecosystem
Along with Korup National Park in the Republic of Cameroon, Cross River National Park is an important biotic reserve which contains one of the oldest rainforests in Africa. It is also one of the 25 United Nations acclaimed biodiversity hot spots in the World. Some portions of the Park lies in the Guinea-Congolian region of the lowland rainforest refugia with closed canopy and scattered emergent trees which reach a height of between 40 and 50 meters. Studies have revealed that vegetation here has evolved over 60 million years ago.
There are 119 species of mammals in the Park. These include 18 out of the 23 species of monkeys found in Nigeria (representing 78% of Nigeria’s total), 48 species of Fish and 950 species of butterflies (90% of Nigeria’s totals) among a wide array of insects.
The Park exists in two distinct, non-contiguous divisions; Oban and Okwagwo.
Oban Division: is the larger of the two divisions and is about 3000sq km in size with very high biodiversity concentration. It is ecologically contiguous with Korup National Park in the Republic of Cameroon separated only by the international boundary between Nigeria and Cameroon. About 1,568 plant species (77 of which are endemic to Nigeria); 75 mammals including forest elephant, Chimpanzee, Drill and Buffalo; 382 birds including the olive green ibis and 42 snake species have all been documented in the Park. It is also rich in epiphytic ferns and orchids.
The Oban division operates in two Ranges, Oban East and Oban West, for management and administrative convenience.
Okwangwo Division: is approximately 1000 sq. km, and has about 1,545 documented species of plants in 98 families. It is equally rich in biodiversity, some of which are extremely rare. Two species of plants; Anceistocladus korupensis and Prunus Africana are generally regarded to have high medicinal properties – the former is claimed to be effective against HIV/AIDS, and the latter against prostrate cancer. These scientific discoveries have brought world attention to the Park due to their probable beneficial medicinal properties.
Six (6) species of plants discovered in the area are said to be new records for Nigeria while four (4) are new to science. The new records for Nigeria include: Asplenum cornutum (ASPLENIACEAE), Arthropteris monocarpa (DAVALLIACEAE), Bulbophyllum bequaertii (ORCHIDACEAE), Bulbophylum. medicum (ORCHIDACEAE), Disperis nitida (ORCHIDACEAE),and Habendria oborata (ORCHIDACEAE).
There are also possible records of species new to science. These are Tridactyle sp nov. (ORCHIDACEAE), Uapaca sp nov. (EUPHORBIACEAE), Hebenaria sp nov. (ORCHIDACEAE) and Afrocalathea flavida sp nov. (MARANTACEAE).
Ethno-botanically, at least 75 plant species from 54 families in the area are used by the local communities in and around the Park in curative therapy.
Many animal species occur in the Division, some of which are endemic in the area. One of the most interesting species is a sub species of the Gorilla – Gorilla gorilla diehli which is endemic to the area. The Bare-headed Rock Fowl – Picathartes oreas hitherto thought to be extinct is also endemic to the area.
Okwangwo Division operates as a single Range, Okwangwo Range, and borders Takamanda National Park in the Republic of Cameroon.
The park was first proposed in 1965, but serious planning did not start until 1988. The World Wide Fund for Nature – UK played a leading role for the plan to establish the park in two divisions separated by farmland and the Cross River valley, with a budget of $49.9 million. The plan envisaged villagers in the buffer zone being involved in running the park and being given development aid.
The Cross River National Park (CRNP) was established by Federal Ministry Government Decree in 1991, with the Cross River gorilla chosen as the theme animal. The original plan was not fully implemented, and the park established in 1991 only included existing forest reserves. After a small amount of initial aid, the funding dried up and the villagers became hostile to the park administration. An amending decree in 1999 converted the Nigerian National Park Service, which runs the park, into a paramilitary outfit with increased powers.
The Nigeria National Park Service is an agency of the Federal Ministry of Environment, Housing & Urban Development. The Cross River National Park is headed by a Director under the guidance of a Park Management Committee. The park management has established a station at Kanyang as a base for primate research and eco-tourism. The Butatong Divisional Head Office, established with assistance from the European Union and the World Wildlife Fund provides a base for rangers patrolling the Okwa and Okwangwo sectors of the Okwangwo division.
The park has four departments: Park Protection and Conservation, Ecotourism, Park Engineering and Maintenance, and Finance and Administration. In 2010, 250 of the total 320 personnel worked in Park Protection and Conservation, mostly male due to the rigors of the job, based at twelve ranger stations. This number is inadequate given the size of the territory to be patrolled. Despite attempts at training, many of the rangers are poorly qualified and are dissatisfied with pay, equipment, motivation and career prospects.
The division has a rugged terrain, rising from 100 m in the river valleys to over 1,000 m in the mountains. The soils are highly vulnerable to leaching and erosion where stripped of plant cover. The rainy season lasts from March to November, with annual rainfall of over 3,500mm. The northern part is drained by the Cross river and its tributaries. The southern parts are drained by the Calabar, Kwa and Korup rivers.
The division is mostly covered with lowland rainforest. Typical tree species include Musanga cecropioides, the African corkwood tree or umbrella tree,Irvingia gabonensis bush mangoBerlinia confusa, Coula edulis, Hannoa klaineana, Klainedoxa gabonensis, African mahoganey and red ironwood. About 1,568 plant aspecies have been identified, of which 77 are endemic to Nigeria. These include 1,303 flowering plants, 141 lichens and 56 moss species. Torben Larsen collected almost 600 species of butterfly in the Oban division in 1995, and estimated that there may be 950 species in total in the division.
Although the park has been poorly explored, over 350 bird species have been recorded. It is one of the two parts of Nigeria where Xavier’s greenbul is found. Other species unusual in Nigeria include bat hawk, Cassin’s hawk-eagle, crested guineafowl, grey-throated rail, olive long-tailed cuckoo, bare-cheeked trogon, lyre-tailed honeyguide, green-backed bulbul, grey-throated tit-flycatcher and Rachel’s malimbe. 42 species of snake have been counted. There are at least 75 mammal species, including the African buffalo, the endangered African forest elephants, common chimpanzee, Preuss’s red colobus and Sclater’s guenon and the highly endangered drill. The division may contain 400 chimpanzees, although no survey has been undertaken.
The forest remains largely untouched in the less accessible areas, but around the margins it has been considerably affected by human activity. In some places, secondary regrowth has occurred, but other areas contain plantations of oil-palm and rubber. Illegal logging is a serious threat, and has been increasing. The population of villages in the buffer zone is growing, and farmers are starting to encroach. Levels of hunting, fishing and transitory cultivation are increasing, and damaging the ecosystem. Chemicals used for fishing have affected fish stocks.
An approach to involving local communities in management of forests in the buffer zones has been tested with some success in the old and new Ekuri villages in the northwestern part of the Oban division. The villagers have rights to about 250 km2 of forest land, and were living by subsistence agriculture and sale of high-value forest products, including the meat of endangered species such as chimpanzee and drill. The Ekuri Community Forestry Project was set up with the help of park officials and foreign donors to improve management of the forest and access to markets. With training and financial support, the villagers established ways to harvest the forest in a sustainable way, and now have a vested interest in its preservation. This contrasts to the negative effects usually seen when external logging or plantation companies enter an area such as this.
The Okwangwo division is centered on coordinates. It is made up of the former Boshi, Okwangwo and Boshi Extension Forest Reserves. The division has an area of about 920 km2 at an altitude of 150 – 1,700m above sea level. It is separated from the Oban division to the south by about 50 km of disturbed rainforest. It lies south-west of the Obudu Plateau and immediately to the east of the Afi River Forest Reserve, separated from this reserve by the Mbe Mountains Community Forest.
The Takamanda Forest Reserve in the Republic of Cameroon shares a border with the Okwangwo division to the east. In November 2008 Takamanda was upgraded to a National Park through a joint project with the Wildlife Conservation Society and the government of Cameroon, with protection of the endangered Cross River gorilla a major objective. The 676 km2 Takamanda National Park will also help conserve forest elephants, chimpanzees, and drills.
The ground is rugged, with rocky ridges and outcrops. The highest points are in the Sankwala Mountains in the north (1,700 m) and in the Mbe Mountains in the south-west (1,000 m). Annual rainfall may be as much as 4,280 mm, mostly falling in the wet season between March and November. The division is drained by the Oyi, Bemi and Okon rivers, tributaries of the Cross River. The high ridge-tops are covered in montane grasslands, with relict forests in the valleys. Lower down, the division is covered by lowland rainforests, with areas of savanna where humans have destroyed the forests. The soils in the highland and lowland areas are vulnerable to erosion and leaching when stripped of their plant cover.
The Okwangwo Division has richly diverse flora, with about 1,545 species representing 98 plant families recorded. Some of these species are endemic to the area. Others were unknown until recently.[when?] Over 280 species of birds have been recorded, including the vulnerable grey-necked rockfowl, which breeds in the Mbe mountains and the golden greenbul, rare in Nigeria. The grey parrot is near threatened.
The park is home to about 78% of the primate species that are found in Nigeria, including the vulnerable common chimpanzee and western gorilla, and the endangered Sclater’s guenon, Preuss’s monkey and drill, which coexist in the same areas of the park. Other large mammals include the endangered African forest elephant and more common African buffalo. The division may contain 200 chimpanzees, although no survey has been undertaken.
The gorilla habitat consists of semi-deciduous, montane and derived savannah environments in a complex of hilly escarpments with steep valleys, with peaks that rise as high as 2,000m. The primary base for gorillas is Mbe mountain, with a population of 30-40 individuals, not yet incorporated in the park. In 2003 it was thought that the Boshi Extension Forest in the north of the division and the Okwa and Ononyi Hills in the south were together home to 50-60 individuals, generally living in isolated subpopulations and therefore at risk of genetic inbreeding. The gorillas are also vulnerable to hunting, but generally the Boki people of the region prefer smaller game. However, during the period 1990-1998, perhaps two gorillas were killed by hunters each year.
There are about 66 villages in the buffer zone surrounding the park, with the villagers dependent on the park for their livelihoods. With a growing human population, the forest is being lost to slash-and-burn agriculture and illegal logging. Some fishermen are using chemicals (gamalin 20, a herbicide) to kill the fish. It is thought that three species of primate have been extirpated. Logging, both legal and illegal, in the buffer zone and the park itself have caused loss of habitat, and logging trails have opened up the forest to poachers. Snares set to trap smaller animals cause injuries to the larger species. Fulani herdsmen have encroached into the reserve to graze their cattle along the Bushi-Ranch axis. There is continued trans-border poaching of elephants between Nigeria and Cameroon. The main targets for illegal logging are Carpolobia, Garcinia and ebony, woods that are scarce outside the park. The police have made efforts to discourage these activities, but are handicapped by lack of funding.
Land ownership in the region rests with the native authority, which must obtain community consent for land transfers. The local people, with reason, are suspicious of government promises that they will receive long-term economic assistance in exchange for giving up their land, and instead demand exorbitant cash payment. This has frustrated efforts to incorporate the Afi River Forest Reserve and the Mbe Mountains Community Forest into the park, preventing more effective conservation efforts.
Programs to establish backyard farming of bushmeat species have been successful in other parts of the state, with villagers raising rabbits, poultry, duikers, porcupines, cane rats, giant rats, pythons, crocodiles and snails. In these areas, hunting and poaching of wild bushmeat has declined dramatically. The approach holds promise for the area surrounding the park. Other ways to protect the endangered species include creating corridors or eco-ducts, highway diversion and improved policing. All would be expensive and depend on committed government officials at the state and federal levels.
The Federal government is courting investors to develop the eco-tourism potential in this and other national parks. The park has been given the motto “The Pride Of Nigeria”. The Kanyang tourist village, about one hour’s drive from Calabar, will give visitors a base from which to view the park, with a lodge, restaurant and wildlife museum. Activities include game viewing, bird watching, gorilla tracking, mountaineering or hiking, sport fishing, boat cruising and the Botanical garden and Herbarium in Butatong.
Attractions include the Kwa Falls, in a narrow, steep gorge near the headwaters of the Kwa River. The deep plunge pool at the foot of the waterfall was hidden under the thick canopy of the tropical rainforest before deforestation. The Agbpkim Waterfalls on the Cross River descend in terraces through the tropical rainforest. There is a mini zoological garden housing species of animals rarely found in Nigeria, which has helped save some rare species from extinction.