© jbdodane, Flickr
The largest area of undisturbed rainforest in Nigeria, this national park harbours some important conservation projects.
Cross River National Park is the largest area of undisturbed rainforest in the country, and has been described as the Amazon of Nigeria; it seemingly goes on forever, over into Cameroon. The park is spectacularly beautiful, with green, rainforest-cloaked mountains and enormous trees. It is split into two parts, the Oban Division and the Okwangwo Division (that also includes parts of the Obudu Plateau), which are approximately 40km apart on either side of the Cross River to the north of Calabar. The park covers approximately 4,000km² of Cross River State and the terrain is tough, with hilly escarpments, steep valleys and peaks that generally rise higher than the surrounding deep forest, some of which reach nearly 1,000m.
These rainforests are some of the oldest and richest in the whole of Africa, and many reports written by biologists, going as far back as the 1920s, emphasise the extreme biological richness of the area, their relatively intact status and the increasing threat from uncontrolled farming, logging and hunting.
The Oban Division has an estimated 1,558 plant species, while the Okwangwo has 1,545 species, 77 of which are endemic to Nigeria. The unique nature of Cross River State tropical forest is due in part to its high annual rainfall of over 4,000mm, and its relatively short dry season. Consequently, this forest, together with that immediately adjacent in southwest Cameroon, is classified as the only true evergreen rainforest in Africa. Over 60% of Nigeria’s endangered plant and animal species are found only within these forests. These include 132 tree species listed by the World Conservation Monitoring Centre as globally threatened. As many as 200 species have been recorded from a single 0.05ha plot, a diversity matched only in exceptionally rich sites in South America. These trees also attract butterflies, and the forests are richer in butterflies than any other part of Africa.
The Okwangwo Division, home to about 80% of all wild primate species in Nigeria, is where Cross River gorillas share the same habitat with other primates, including chimpanzees and drills. Other rare species include leopard, small antelope, a variety of monkeys, as well as buffalo and forest elephants. The gorilla, which had been declared extinct in Nigeria 40 years earlier, was rediscovered in 1987, and the huge amount of international publicity that this generated helped to persuade the government to gazette Cross River National Park in 1988.
Nevertheless, as in Nigeria’s other parks, mismanagement and neglect have taken their toll and, although the forests of the park are largely intact, they have been subjected to recent small-scale logging in some areas, and hunting continues to be practised throughout, endangering many species, notably the drill, chimpanzee, some of the monkeys such as Preuss’s and Sclater’s guenons, and the forest elephant.