The emergence of a new action for the conservation of the threatened Cross River gorilla appears to have signaled fresh hopes for the survival of the apes, which are said to have been hunted down to only 300 in the mountains between Nigeria and Cameroon.
The new action plan, which is the third in the series, will span 2020-2025. It is a follow-up to the 2014-2019 and 2007-2012 plans.
The third plan is the outcome of a two-day workshop organised by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Calabar, Cross River State from December 5 to 6, 2019, where it was drafted.
It was attended by 43 participants including representatives from the Nigeria National Park Service, the Cross River Forestry Commission, Federal Department of Forestry, NESREA, Pandrillus, the Obudu Conservation Centre, WILMAR, the Conservation Association of the Mbe Mountains, Cross River State REDD+ Programme, UniCal, BPC, NGOCE, DIN, DEVCON, NCF and the Ekuri Initiative, as well as community leaders. Participants reviewed the previous Action Plan for the Conservation of the Cross River gorilla 2014-2019.
It was remarked that no gorillas have been killed in Nigeria since 2012 and therefore it is assumed that the gorilla population is currently stable or may even be increasing. There is now a greater level of awareness of the importance of Cross River gorilla conservation and this has helped with new funding for the landscape from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and others, participants emphasised.
However, Dr. Inaoyom Imong of the WCS reported that “there is a real crisis facing Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary. There are at least 1,000 illegal farms throughout the sanctuary which are expanding daily and unless action is taken very soon it is likely that the sanctuary and its gorillas will soon be lost forever.
“Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary has been neglected for many years and we are calling on the Cross River State Government to urgently prioritise the protection of the sanctuary before it is too late.”
It was also observed that the enclave communities in the Okwangwo Division of Cross River National Park continue to expand and participants at the workshop felt that their presence is detrimental for the long-term future of the national park. They called on the Federal Government to revisit plans for the voluntary resettlement of the enclaves as soon as possible.
Cross River National Park is said to be the richest biodiversity site in the country and recognised as a site of international importance.
Delegates insisted that the gradual decline of such an important national park must be prevented. The growing threat of logging across Cross River State was also discussed, particularly the logging of ebony for export. Ebony logging is reportedly affecting all of the Cross River gorilla sites in Nigeria including Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary, the Mbe Mountains and the Okwangwo Division of Cross River National Park.
Several key recommendations were made at the workshop, and are listed to include:
- revitalising transboundary conservation with Cameroon and applying for World Heritage Site status for the region;
- providing greater support for livelihood development and community engagement; and
- strengthening tourism development and focus more attention on the need to protect corridors for gorillas, particularly Afi River Forest Reserve.
A similar workshop is currently being planned for Cameroon and it hopes to publish the new conservation action plan in 2020, in collaboration with the Section on Great Apes of the IUCN Primate Specialist Group.
One of the tools to help ensure the survival of rare and endangered species is the conservation action plan. Conservation action plans are compiled by the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC), a science-based network of more than 10,000 volunteer experts.
Each action plan assesses the conservation status of an individual species and their habitats and outlines the conservation priorities necessary for their survival over the next five to 10 years. They are said to be one of the world’s most authoritative sources of species-related conservation information available to natural resource managers, conservationists and decision makers around the world.
Beginning in 2001 in Calabar, a series of stakeholder workshops in Cameroon and Nigeria have so far produced two IUCN SSC conservation action plans for the Cross River gorilla 2007-2012 and 2014-2019.