Home to Africa's largest human population and its second largest economy, Nigeria has also retained vibrant wilderness. The country's forest and savannah parks and wetlands rank among the continent’s most important. Nigeria’s rural populations depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, eking out a living on typically small farms, many of which are expanding into previously remote, forested areas. This pronounced expansion in Nigeria is causing habitat fragmentation and inevitable human-wildlife conflicts. Nigeria’s biologically diverse landscape encompasses lowland and mountain rainforests, mangroves, swamps, and mountain grasslands. Yet the proliferation of subsistence farms and large-scale timber harvesting forecasts bad news for native wildlife, particularly the African elephant and the extremely rare Cross River gorilla. Gorillas and elephants need large, continuous ranges to survive.
Conservation efforts in Nigeria have, in recent years, focused on consolidating and protecting habitats, such as the lush Afi and Mbe mountain chains, which link Nigeria’s Cross River National Park with the Takamanda-Mone Forest in neighboring Cameroon. But protected areas are not immune to farm expansion, which is challenging conservationists to find a sustainable and appropriate balance.
- Cross River gorillas were once common in some parts of southeastern Nigeria, but their populations have declined as farming and fire have damaged their forest homes.
- Cross River National Park, created in 1991 from existing forest reserves, provides important gorilla habitat. Some of the park's reserves date to the 1930s, when established communities were permitted to remain inside the forest and a series of enclaves were created to accommodate them.
- In addition to sheltering the Cross River gorilla, Nigeria provides critical habitat for primates such as the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee, red colobus, drill, Sclater’s guenon, and Preuss’s guenon.
- Elephants, which once roamed across Nigeria, live only in a few protected areas today.
- Major carnivores in Nigeria include leopards, as well as African wild dogs and lions—both threatened species the are declining across the continent.
Poorly managed logging and increasing needs for agricultural land are fragmenting Nigeria’s remaining forests. For example, the rural communities living within Cross River National Park have expanded considerably, which puts intense pressure on the park’s resources. Protected areas are also becoming ever more isolated, with few resources or qualified staff in place to encourage sustainable management. In some areas, the bushmeat trade is a pressing threat, as demand increases to supply commercial markets. A general lack of governance and awareness of conservation issues in communities surrounding protected areas also presents a major obstacle. Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary is beset by a number of conservation problems including encroachment from the 16 communities that surround it as well as more than 600 illegal farms within the sanctuary itself. The forest is also frequently damaged by dry-season fires that spread up mountain slopes from surrounding farmland. Logging of the surrounding Afi River Forest Reserve and farming threaten to sever the habitat corridor linking Afi and Mbe to the east, and isolate Afi and its gorillas. The Mbe Mountains are community-owned land and lack formal protection.
WCS is currently working to develop a community-led model for protected area conservation in the Mbe Mountains and continues to identify and monitor remaining gorilla populations. This research highlights the need to preserve corridors that link up gorilla habitats and to investigate the extent of their range outside of protected areas. WCS has also hosted a series of regional workshops focused on the Cross River gorilla and worked closely with the governments of Nigeria and neighboring Cameroon to make gorilla conservation a priority. In addition, we support anti-poaching patrols, the training of park rangers, and the development of ranger posts. Our conservationists are also teaching local hunters alternative ways to make a living, such as through beekeeping and snail-farming. This job training helps to reduce pressure on the remaining forest resources.
WCS conducted a survey of chimpanzees in the southwest region of Nigeria to determine their status in this poorly studied and very threatened area. Additional surveys, particularly in the southeastern region, have led to the discovery of several species of butterflies, birds, amphibians, and fish that were previously unknown to Nigeria. WCS is also working to monitor one of the largest remaining herds of elephants in the Yankari Game Reserve in central Nigeria. The objective is to better protect the elephants by reducing poaching and revenge killing of those animals that raid crops in farms close to the reserve.
From the Newsroom
A high-tech study of Cross River gorilla habitat finds that the critically endangered ape’s range is more than 50 percent bigger than previously documented. By protecting habitat corridors between the gorilla’s populations, conservationists may be able to help their numbers grow.
WCS conservationists and their partners announce a plan to protect the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee. Restricted to pockets of forest within the two countries, the subspecies is the world’s rarest chimp.
The International Primatological Society grants their 2010 Charles Southwick Award to WCS's Joseph Mulema for his work to protect Cross River gorillas in Cameroon.
African giant snails are giving local villagers big options when it comes to food and livelihoods, and gorilla poaching is not one of them.