As UNESCO Declares Oban Hills in Cross River a World Heritage Site…

The rare Drill Monkeys at the Oban Hills in CRS

The rare Drill Monkeys at the Oban Hills in CRS

by crossriverwatch admin

On November 1st 1995, the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, NCMM submitted to World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) a proposal for the listing and declaration of the Oban Hills as a World Heritage Site.

17 years after, the desires of the NCMM and indeed Cross River seem to be actualizing as in no distant time the Oban Hills will be declared a World Heritage site, making it the third in Nigeria after the Sukur Cultural Landscape and the Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove; and joining the list of 962 World Heritage sites.

The Oban Hills, a range of hills which lie within the Oban Hills Division of the Cross River National Park was established in 1988 and constitutes an important wildlife and natural habitat for many species of animal and plants some of which are unknown to science and have been attracting so much international attention, ultimately the UNESCO’s.

The Oban Hills Division is 2,800 km2 in area, centered on coordinates 5°25′0″N 8°35′0″E5; 416667°N 8.583333°E. The division shares a long border with Korup National Park in the Republic of Cameroon, forming a single protected ecological zone.

The steep-side hills are covered in ancient Biafra type rainforest with a “neck” between village enclaves which serves as a crucial link between two sections of the Oban Hills.

It is renowned for its diverse Scientific, Education and Tourism potentials being one of the oldest rainforests in Africa identified as a biodiversity hot spot.

Sixteen primate species have been recorded in the park. Rare primates include Chimpanzees and Drills, an endangered primate related to the Mandrill.

As one of Nigeria’s best habitat for birds and a vastly unexplored territory, over 350 bird species including parrots have been recorded. It is one of the only two sites in Nigeria where Xavier’s Green Bull is found.

Other species unusual in Nigeria which include Bat Hawk, Cassin’s Hawk-eagle, Crested Guinea fowl, Grey-throated Rail, Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo, Bare-cheeked Trogon, Lyre-tailed Honey guide, Green-backed Bulbul, Grey-throated Tit-flycatcher and Rachel’s Malimbe have also been discovered at the reserve.

42 species of snakes have been counted. There are at least 75 mammal species, including the African Buffalo, the endangered African Forest Elephants; Chimpanzee, Preuss’s Red Colobus and Sciater’s Guenon found near the main tourist camps; and are highly endangered Drill.

The Hills may contain up to 400 Chimpanzees, although no survey has been undertaken. A 1988 report said that the remaining patches of forest on the mountainous slopes were being encroached upon leading to the hunting of primates such as Preuss’s Guenon for meat. Another primate, the Gray-cheeked Mangabey, seems to have recently become extinct in the area.

Typical tree species include Berlinia Confusa, Coula edulis, Hannoa Klaineana, Klainedoxa Gabonensis, African Mahoganey and Red Ironwood.

About 1,568 plant species 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 division in 1995, and estimated that there may be 950 species in total in the area.

As the remaining largest area of unexploited lowland rain forest in Nigeria, It is possible that at one time the region was home to more people, perhaps being depopulated due to its proximity to the slave trading center of Calabar.

Although, the forest remains largely untouched in the less accessible areas, but around the margins have been considerably affected by human activity. In some places, secondary growth has occurred, but other areas containing plantations of oil-palm and rubber have witnessed increased illegal logging which is a serious threat to the environment.

Seemingly, the population of villages in the buffer zone is growing just as farmers have started to encroach on the reserved areas. Consequently, levels of hunting, fishing and transitory cultivation are increasing, and damaging the ecosystem.

An approach involving local communities in management of the forests which gave the villagers rights to about 250 km2 of forest land which they used for subsistence agriculture and sale of high-value forest products which included the meat of endangered species such as Chimpanzee and Drill was introduced in the old and new Ekuri villages in the north-western part of the division.

Subsequently, the Ekuri Community Forestry Project was set up with the help of Park officials and foreign donors to improve management of the forest and create access to markets for the local communities.

With training and financial support, the villagers soon established ways to harvest the forest in a sustainable way, and now have a vested interest in its preservation.

The Cross River National Park (which constitutes Oban Hills and Okwangwo divisions) is one of the richest areas of tropical rainforest in West Africa. The Cross River National Park, together with the Oban Hills, forms the focus of the activities of World Wildlife Fund in Nigeria.

Currently, the WWF, the Nigerian Conservation Foundation and the Federal Parks Service are carrying out an integrated conservation and development project in the northern part of the park.

The project has created a proper boundary for the park, and programs are being implemented against illegal hunting, logging and land clearance.

Whereas all these efforts are calculated at checking the negative human activities in the area, both divisions of the park are still being threatened by illegal logging, slash, burn farming and poaching.

Although both the Cross River state and Federal government are courting investors to develop the eco-tourism potentials in this natural reserve, the Cross River (Oban Hills) park which has been tagged the ‘Pride of Nigeria’, needs to be rid of negative human activities capable of diminishing its reserve. In this respect, there’s great need for government to employ more drastic protective measures especially employing the services of the locals in securing the entire environment and its resources.

There is also great need for regular sensitization of host communities on the dangers of depleting the forest resources of the Oban Hills as well as benefits of the environment to host communities with regards to the United Nations collaborative program on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (UN REDD) where Cross River would be getting UN REDD rewards for the conservation of the forests now and more in the future.

But beyond all these and very importantly, is the serious need for government and other stakeholders to come together with a view to providing complementary sources of livelihood for the host communities.

This becomes imperative as there is no denying the fact that even the access area provided for the communities would have been rendered fallow due to the activities of the natives.

Therefore, if appropriate steps are not taken toward providing alternative sources of livelihood for them, the temptation to encroach into the reserved areas becomes inevitable as they must survive and make ends meet.

They should be concerted and well articulated efforts to create an attractive vocation that will be capable of fully engaging the host communities such that their attention must be channeled out of the forest reserve.

As the Oban Hills is set to be declared a world heritage site by the UNESCO, all hands must be on deck to ensure that the Hills and indeed the Cross River State National Park which hosts 30 percent of the world’s remaining rain forests, more than 50 percent of the country’s remaining rain forests as well as the 25th world biodiversity reserve and the only evergreen rain forest in Africa is harnessed to continue to rip in fortunes for the state especially through its tourism, education and scientific potentials.

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