The Cross River National Park (CRNP) is the only moist tropical rain forest national park in Nigeria. It is surrounded by moist tropical rain forest around the northern and central parts and mangrove swamps on the coastal fringes. The park, in the extreme southeastern corner of Nigeria, covers approximately 4,000 km2 within the Cross River State, approximately on 5°04'-6°25' N and 8°30'-9°30' E. It is officially managed as 2 divisions, the Oban Division in the south and Okwangwo Division in the north. The Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli) occurs within the Okwangwo Division, a complex of rainforest, montane forest and derived savanna.
Mbe mountain is a strategic habitat of Cross River gorillas and presently harbours about 30-40 individuals. The area recorded some improvement in protection and scientific research during 1995 and 1997 following funding from the EU. CRNP and the Primates Preservation Group (PPG) are presently trying to maintain researchers' presence in the area as well as to talk with the stakeholders over continued conservation of the area.
In recognition of the fact that rural communities that depended on the rain forest for their survival have lost access to the areas now designated as park, and to give the task of park management and conservation a human face, the park management initiated and developed a concept known as "Support Zone Development Programme". Under this scheme, consultations are made with support zone communities and development assistance is taken to them. Some of the assistance programs include creation and maintenance of access roads, provision of basic health care services, agricultural inputs, and vocational training for identified hunters to prepare them for alternative employment and livelihood.
The Cross River gorillas range in an area of mainly semi-deciduous, montane and derived savanna within approximately 5°50'-6°30' N and 8°50'-9°40' E. The area spans the border of Nigeria and Cameroon. At present, 4 isolated sub-populations are recognized though there may be more. The recognized sub-populations are those of the Mbe Mountain Ranges, the Afi Mountains, the Boshi Extension Forests (CRNP) and the Takamanda Forest Reserve of Cameroon which is contiguous with the CRNP. Gorillas range as far north as the Obudu Plateau, thus giving the subspecies the most northerly and westerly distribution of all gorilla populations.
The CRNP, having selected the gorilla as its theme animal, pursued over the last decade a gorilla based field biological research within the Okwangwo Division of the park and the Mbe Mountains (not yet officially included in the park). It is part of the management's plan to include this latter area (about 100 km2) into the park because of the presence of gorillas (30-40 individuals).
Currently, a 10 man ranger force based at the Kanyang gorilla station, at the foot of the Mbe Mountains, patrols and protects the mountains in cooperation with the landlord communities. The Cross River National Park and the PPG are also carrying out survey work in the Boshi Extension looking specifically at gorilla ecology and threats. These on-going studies will determine their ranging behaviour in the area. There are some indications that the animals migrate seasonally across the Nigerian border into Takamanda Forest Reserve.
The park has intensified its efforts to provide protection measures by bringing a team of rangers to the area. Logistic support, however, has not been adequate to effectively mobilize this team. The area is vast and would require a minimum of 20 rangers in the field to patrol regularly. It is necessary to coordinate activities more effectively in the east around the international border and in the west around Bumaji, Busi etc., where human activities are rampant.
A team of 34 park rangers effects park protection in Okwangwo Division. The rangers carry out their activities by organizing patrols and surveillance in and around the park. Persistent farming occurs around support zone villages and there is incursion of cattle grazing by Fulani herdsmen along the Bushi-Ranch axis. There is also widespread poisoning of some rivers by fishermen. The Division also recorded an increase in activities of timber and non-timber forest products extractors. Appreciable success in surveillance and law enforcement was registered, however. The rangers made a number of arrests of offenders and in collaboration with the police detained them.
Camping gear and other patrol items that will facilitate rangers' operations will be purchased when funds are available. At the moment, an effort to identify suitable radio equipment that will function effectively in the difficult terrain of the rain forest is in progress. Recently, the PPG has received assistance from Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe of US$ 500 and some rain jackets for the rangers working in the Okwangwo Division specifically on gorilla protection.Edem A. Eniang
In 1998 and 1999 my field surveys conducted in the Takamanda Forest Reserve, which covers an area of 676 km2, estimated that approximately 140 weaned gorillas inhabited the highland areas of the Takamanda Forest. However, I found no evidence of gorillas at all (and only a few other large mammals) in one highland area I surveyed. This was near a large village, and hunting is a major economic activity in this area. These observations suggested that my population estimate should be adjusted to take into account the proximity of villages to potential gorilla habitat. Collections of skull records indicated that it was also possible that gorillas may still exist in the Mone River Forest Reserve (previously known as the Mawne River Forest Reserve) which covers 538 km2 and is located approximately 6 km southeast of the Takamanda Reserve.
Initial results of a new survey confirmed the continued presence of gorillas in 3 of the 4 highland areas surveyed in Takamanda. One highland area surveyed, located a few hundred meters from the village of Takpe, revealed over 30 gorilla nests grouped closely together. The highland areas around Mende on the grassland/forest interface approximately 5 km south of the Obudu Cattle Ranch in Nigeria, provided no evidence of gorillas.
In January 2001 areas around the village of Mbu (5°59' N, 9°31' E) in the Mone Forest Reserve were surveyed for gorilla nests and 3 groups of 6 nests were located approximately 8 km east of Mbu. These nests were on relatively steep hillsides but at low altitudes. We re-visited this area during April and were fortunate enough to encounter a small group of gorillas; 1 adult male, 2 adult females and 1 infant. Surveys extended northwards to the village of Tava located in the Mbulu Forest, where no nests were found in the forest area between Tava and Bandolo. Continuing north, additional highland areas were investigated in Mbulu and gorilla nests were located in 2 sites between the villages of Badshama and Ashunda. Further surveys are scheduled to take place on highland areas within Mbulu and Mone Forest Reserve to confirm the distribution of these gorillas. This new finding indicates that the gorilla population in this part of Cameroon may therefore be larger than originally estimated.
In April 2000 the German Technical Cooperation, GTZ, commenced a joint project with the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MINEF), Protection of Forests around Akwaya (PROFA), concentrating initially on the Takamanda Forest Reserve and surrounding areas. The project has been given an initial 3-year phase, which if successful will continue for an additional 9 years. We are working in collaboration with GTZ and MINEF and in November 2000, during a meeting with the Chiefs and representatives from local villages, a traditional hunting ban on gorillas, chimps, drills and elephants was implemented. No report of gorillas being killed has been received since 2 individuals were shot in December 1998 around Takpe and Mbu.Jacqueline Groves
The EC-funded central African forest conservation program ECOFAC, has been running since early 1992. It focuses on a protected area in six countries of the sub-region (Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville, Central African Republic, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Sao Tomé e Príncipe). In the course of the survey work undertaken by the program, certain sites have been shown to harbour unexpectedly high numbers of lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla). This is particularly true of the Odzala National Park in northern Congo which has very extensive areas of open canopy Marantaceae forest, a habitat particularly favoured by gorillas. In certain areas the density may be as high as 10 gorillas/km2 (Bermejo, 1995).
The surveys in the north of the park also revealed the presence of over 100 forest clearings (called "bais" or salines) some of which attract astonishingly high numbers of large mammals, in particular forest elephants, gorillas, forest buffalo, bongo, sitatunga, giant forest hog and bush-pig. Observations over an 8-month period in one of these salines (called Maya north) showed that it was visited by at least 36 different gorilla families and
18 solitary males, representing some 420 individuals (Magliocca et al., 1999). Furthermore it was shown that gorillas were present on over 80% of the days!
First Steps to Tourism
Simultaneously to the survey work in the park, a Spanish couple of primatologists, Magdalena Bermejo and Germain Ilera had been undertaking a study of gorillas in an area of Marantaceae forest some 30 km to the southwest of the park at a site called Lossi. In the course of their work since 1993 they have succeeded in habituating a couple of gorilla families using the classic method of tracking them day in and day out with the help of skilled Congolese trackers. This has been a major breakthrough as until now nobody had ever succeeded in habituating lowland gorillas, and many people had begun to believe that it would never be possible to propose the Virunga-style gorilla tourism in the lowland forests of central Africa.
These discoveries mean that Odzala now has genuine tourist potential as it offers on the one hand the rare possibility of good-quality viewing of spectacular rainforest mammal species in the salines, and on the other the classic close-up experience of gorilla tracking in the forest. Over the last three years ECOFAC has, therefore, invested a considerable proportion of its energy to developing the tourist potential of Odzala National Park and its buffer zone. The outbreak of the war in Brazzaville in June 1997 could not have come at a worse time as tourism was just beginning to take off in Odzala with visitors coming in on the weekly flight into the park's air strip at Mboko in the savannah/forest mosaic section of the south of the park. Since then the security situation has meant that it has not been possible to bring in visitors on a regular basis but all park management activities (anti-poaching, monitoring of salines, gorilla tracking etc.) have continued almost without interruption and once the situation normalises tourism activities will be able to resume rapidly. The war has meant that road links between Odzala and Brazzaville (750 km) have deteriorated very considerably and the park is now virtually cut off from the capital. However, Odzala is only 60 km from the Gabonese border, where roads and communications are excellent, so paradoxically this has meant that ECOFAC's logistical problems have been considerably eased as the project has had to develop its links to Gabon (rehabilitation of the old, abandoned border road). Currently all the logistics for the park are now run directly out of Gabon (thanks to the support of the Gabonese authorities).
Tourist Activities in Odzala
The salines A trip up the Mambili river by motorised dug-out canoe to the area of salines in the north of the park. To get the best out of this trip 6 or 7 days are required. The trip starts out from the tented camp (east African style) at Mboko in the forest/savannah zone of the south of the park. The trip up the river is a pleasant 6-hour ride (excluding stops) passing through forest all the way and with plenty of opportunities for observing wildlife. From the tented camp at Ekania a large number of salines are within easy reach, all of which are regularly visited by the large mammal fauna including gorillas. At the Maya north saline (1 hour pirogue, followed by a 3-hour walk) there is another, more basic, camp. In the saline a 4 m high observation hide provides excellent viewing.
Gorilla tracking at Lossi. Lossi is just outside the Odzala National Park some 28 km to the south of the village of Lengui-Lengui on the road between Mbomo (park HQ) and the border with Gabon. The walk to Lossi is currently long (9 hours) but not difficult. A motorable track of 16 km will be reopened once tourism resumes. The accommodation is basic (local style cabins). A team of 5 highly experienced trackers follow the gorillas every day thus ensuring an almost 100% guarantee of seeing them. Two families are habituated. The vegetation is extremely thick so viewing conditions are not like those of the Virunga, although these gorillas, being mainly fruit eaters, spend a lot of time in trees where they are easily observed.
The interesting aspect of Lossi is that this area of forest "belongs" to the villagers of Lengui-Lengui who have asked ECOFAC to help them develop tourism in the forest where they and their ancestors have practised their traditional activities. The tourist revenue from the tourism will thus go directly to the traditional "owners" of the forest who have understood that conservation of the forest for gorilla tourism may well bring much greater long-term benefits to them than hunting the wildlife - a perfect example of community conservation. A visit to Lossi, with 2 gorilla visits, would thus take 4 days allowing for the walk in and out.
Currently, access to Odzala is by road from Gabon, via Makokou and Mekambo. There are regular weekly flights from Libreville to Makokou and three flights a month to Mekambo. The road trip from Makokou to Odzala Park HQ at Mbomo takes some 6 hours.
More Sites for Visitors
Encouraged by the success in Congo, 2 other components of the ECOFAC program, Gabon (Lopé Reserve) and Equatorial Guinea (Monte Alen National Park) have also decided to develop gorilla tourism programs. These are both protected areas where tourism (on a small scale) already takes place so the addition of gorillas to the attractions proposed will be a considerable asset. Magdalena Bermejo has helped identify suitable areas in both protected areas and work has already progressed well in Monte Alen although the hilly terrain makes the task of keeping track of the gorillas every day somewhat more difficult than in Congo. However, despite the fact that no family has yet been habituated, during the 1998 summer period all those visitors who opted to spend 2 or 3 nights in the park in the gorilla area all managed to see gorillas.
In Lopé work is only just beginning to habituate a family but it is hoped that by the end of year 2000 it may be possible to propose gorilla tourism here also. Lopé has very good communications (good road from Libreville, as well as train) and an excellent hotel on the shores of the majestic Oogoué river.
Conservationists' eternal problem is how to make sure that their activities translate into real long-term improvements in protected area management and conservation. Making protected areas pay is certainly one of the ways of demonstrating the value of conservation and thus convincing national decision-makers to take wildlife conservation seriously. Rarely, however, has this been achieved in the rainforest environment and eco-tourism has perhaps too often been held up as the panacea for conservation. However, the special case of gorilla tourism really is different because of its ability to generate very large amounts of revenue as has been repeatedly demonstrated in ex-Zaire, Rwanda and Uganda. ECOFAC also hopes that the development of gorilla tourism in Congo, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea will help focus international attention on the extraordinary riches of the Congo basin forests and the threats that they are facing (logging, bushmeat trade).Conrad Aveling
For further information contact:
B.P. 15115, Libreville, Gabon
Tel: (241) 732343/4
Fax: (241) 72345
Web site: http://www.ecofac.org
Bermejo, M. 1995. Recensement des gorilles et chimpanzs du Parc National d'Odzala. Rapport ECOFAC
Magliocca, F., Querouil, S. & Gautier-Hion, A. 1999 (in press). Population structure and group composition of western lowland gorillas in N-W Republic of Congo. Am. J. Primatol. 47
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