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Developing Cross River National Park as a UNESCO World Heritage Site

15 October 2023

In 2020 the two divisions of Cross River National Park were declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as the Oban Biosphere Reserve and the Okwangwo Biosphere Reserve. Biosphere reserves promote solutions reconciling the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use and are intended to be learning areas for sustainable development under diverse ecological, social and economic contexts. They are sites for testing interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and managing changes and interactions between social and ecological systems, including conflict prevention and biodiversity management.

Building on regional action plans for the Cross River gorilla and Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has been promoting transboundary conservation collaboration between Nigeria and Cameroon since 2009. Several stakeholder workshops have been held to strengthen transboundary cooperation between the two countries. WCS and others are currently working to link the two biosphere reserves in Cross River State in Nigeria with biosphere reserves in Cameroon to create a single transboundary biosphere reserve to be known as the Cross River-Korup-Takamanda (CRIKOT) Biosphere Reserve. In addition to the creation of a transboundary biosphere reserve, we have also been working to create a transboundary World Heritage Site. Based on the premise that certain places on Earth are of outstanding universal value, and as such should form part of the common heritage of humankind, UNESCO helps to identify World Heritage sites and ensure their safekeeping for future generations. CRIKOT was added to the Tentative List of World Heritage properties in 2020 based on the region’s Outstanding Universal Value. There is strong political will in both countries to establish a transboundary World Heritage Site although a draft Cooperation Framework Agreement between the two counties has not yet been signed. Documents required for the nomination of CRIKOT as a World Heritage Site have been started, although significant work remains to be done including a definition of site boundaries, a preliminary review of protection and management arrangements, and consultations with local communities to ensure their interests will be protected and local support for the nomination will be forthcoming. The process is expected to take several years to complete.

Okwangwo Division of Cross River National Park