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Cross River National Park, Nigeria

The Cross River landscape contains the largest forest block left in Nigeria, with a wide variety of habitats ranging from dense rainforest to montane forest to high-altitude grasslands. Contiguous with forests in Cameroon, the landscape is a biodiversity hotspot of global significance and a centre of endemism for primates, birds, freshwater fish and amphibians. The Oban and Okwangwo Divisions of Cross River National Park are recognised as UNESCO Biosphere Reserves and have been proposed as a World Heritage Site.

The region bounded by the Cross River in Nigeria and the Sanaga River in Cameroon is considered an important centre of plant diversity due to its speculated isolation during the Pleistocene era. The ecotone of unbroken and little-disturbed forest from 150 m to 1 700 m is rare in Africa and an important feature of the Okwangwo Division of Cross River National Park. Protection of these forests on the slopes of Cross River National Park is essential to maintain a continuous flow of safe and sustainable water supplies for local communities.

Gorilla country! A view of the Okwangwo Division of CRNP from the Obudu Plateau © WCS Nigeria
Map of Cross River National Park

Despite continued hunting pressure the primate fauna is remarkably diverse, with 19 species present: Cross River gorilla, Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee, drill, red colobus monkey, putty-nosed guenon, mona guenon, red-capped mangabey, red-eared guenon, crowned guenon, Preuss’s guenon, Talbot’s needle-clawed galago, Allen’s galago, Demidoff’s galago, Thomas’s dwarf galago, potto, angwantibo, vervet monkey, patas monkey and olive baboon. Four of these species are endemic to the region and seven others are represented by endemic subspecies. Cross River National Park also supports an important population of forest elephants.

/Cross River gorilla Gorilla gorilla diehli © WCS Nigeria

A total of 463 bird species have been recorded from Cross River National Park including some that were previously considered endemic to certain highland areas of Cameroon such as the yellow-footed Honeyguide, Ursula’s Sunbird and the Mount Kupe Bush-shrike. Cross River National Park also contains several globally threatened bird species such as the yellow-casqued hornbill, mountain saw-wing, Cameroon montane greenbul, grey-headed greenbul, green-breasted bush-shrike, Crossley’s ground thrush, white-throated mountain babbler, Bannerman’s weaver and the endangered red-headed rock fowl.

Forest elephants Loxodonta cyclotis in Cross River National Park © National Park Service

It has been estimated that Cross River National Park contains more than 1 100 species of butterfly and as such is reputed to be the richest site in Africa for butterflies. The river Cross is reported to have more fish species than any other hydrologically comparable West African river basin with one of the highest fish diversities recorded in West Africa and at least 11 endemic fish species. The region is also known to be a hotspot of amphibian richness and diversity with 61 amphibian species from the Oban area alone.

Cross River National Park is managed by the National Park Service, a parastatal of the Federal Ministry of Environment, with support from the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Park rangers on a long-distance foot patrol © WCS Nigeria

PAPFor has supported the management of Cross River National Park through the Wildlife Conservation Society since 2019. The ‘EU Support Programme for the Preservation of Forest Ecosystems in Cross River State’ has helped strengthen protection of the national park through support for ranger patrols and renovation of park infrastructure. The project also supports a conservation education outreach programme with surrounding schools, as well as a sustainable livelihood programme for adjacent communities.

Local schoolchildren on a field trip to Cross River National Park © WCS Nigeria

Cross River National Park is a popular tourism destination and is easily accessible from Calabar, the capital of Cross River State.

Park rangers have benefited from refresher training organised by WCS © WCS Nigeria