CALABAR, Nigeria (March 11, 2020) – The EU announced today a four-year, two million euro initiative to protect the Cross River Gorilla – the world’s most endangered great ape – and secure the Cross River National Park, while promoting sustainable livelihoods for communities that live adjacent to the gorilla’s forest home. The project will be implemented by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in collaboration with the Nigeria National Park Service and Cross River State Government. The project was officially launched in Calabar on Tuesday March the 10th at an event attended by high level dignitaries.
In his welcome address the Executive Governor of Cross River State, Senator Professor Ben Ayade expressed his gratitude to the EU for their support, stating: “The Government of Cross River State is ready to provide all necessary support for the successful implementation of this timely project.”
The Governor commended the EU for selecting Cross River State for the new project which he said is in line with his own environmental priorities for the state and said he was looking forward to working with the EU in other areas also. The Governor also thanked WCS for its partnership with Cross River State and its technical expertise and management efforts and financial support for the program.
The Delegation of the European Union to the Federal Republic of Nigeria and ECOWAS was represented at the event by the Head of Cooperation Mr. Kurt Cornelis and the Programme Manager, Health, Nutrition and Resilience, Mr. Temitayo Omole. In a goodwill message Mr. Cornelis stated that the project in Cross River State forms part of the larger European Union funded “Support Programme for the Preservation of Forest Ecosystems in West Africa” that is focused on the conservation of six transboundary priority landscapes across West Africa. He spoke about his own personal satisfaction that by protecting one of the last great rainforests of West Africa the project will help to mitigate the effects of climate change, an increasing global concern for everyone.
The Conservator General of the National Park Service Dr. Alhaji Ibrahim Musa Goni warmly welcomed the support from the EU and remarked on the need for additional support and funding from the international conservation community for the other six national parks in the country.
The Conservator General recognized the long-term support from the Wildlife Conservation Society and said: “This project will help protect the Cross River gorilla, the most threatened of all African apes, from habitat loss and poaching.”
The stronghold for Cross River gorillas is the Okwangwo Division of Cross River National Park, contiguous with Takamanda National Park in Cameroon. Although only 100 Cross River gorillas remain in Nigeria (all within Cross River State) the Conservator General reported that there has been no poaching of Cross River gorillas in Nigeria since 2012 (at Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary).
Country Director for the Wildlife Conservation Society in Nigeria, Mr. Andrew Dunn, said: “The Wildlife Conservation Society is immensely proud to be implementing this project in collaboration with the National Park Service to protect Cross River gorillas, forest elephants and chimpanzees. We will ensure that this project builds upon lessons learnt from previous conservation projects in the area including the EU-funded Oban Hills project and the WWF Okwangwo project during the 1990s and we will be extremely careful not to raise unrealistic expectations among local communities and will ensure that all development benefits provided are clearly linked to a conservation action. We will also be looking to mobilized additional development partners to join this Cross River National Park landscape partnership.”
He also urged more support for the growing numbers of refugees from Cameroon seeking refuge in Cross River State, many of whom are living within Cross River National Park.
WCS in Nigeria
Based in Calabar, WCS has been working in Nigeria since 2001, and currently supports the conservation of 4 different sites in Cross River State as well as Yankari Game Reserve in Bauchi State.