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Nigeria and Cameroon Jointly Protect Unique Ecosystem

DURBAN, South Africa, September 11, 2003 (ENS) - The creation of a giant trans-boundary protected area that shelters endangered species on both sides of the Nigeria-Cameroon border was announced today at the IUCN World Parks Congress. The 10 yearly event taking place this week and next in Durban provides the major global forum that sets the agenda for protected areas.

BirdLife International is collaborating on the project in partnership with the governments of Cameroon and Nigeria. The area is a single ecosystem, divided by the international boundary. It hosts 28 bird species found only in this afromontane ecosystem, including 13 species found only in this mountain chain, BirdLife said today.

The trans-boundary area targeted for protection takes in Gashaka Gumti National Park in Nigeria and Tchabal-Mbabo in Cameroon. Commercial bushmeat hunting is increasing on both sides of the border, and carnivores like lion and hyena are killed by cattle owners, BirdLife says.

forest

Much of the remaining forest on the Nigerian side is fragmented. (Photo by Matt Walters courtesy BirdLife International)
“The Gashaka Gumti/Tchabal-Mbabo trans-boundary collaboration highlights two important themes of this year’s World Parks Congress,” said BirdLife Director and Chief Executive Dr. Michael Rands.

“One is the lack of formal protection of many of Africa’s Important Bird Areas, as at Tchabal-Mbabo," Rands said. "The other is the chronic under-resourcing of sites like the Gashaka Gumti National Park, which have been designated as protected areas, but lack the capacity for protection to be fully effective.”

The BirdLife project will take the form of a study. Researchers will examine ways of strengthening protection on the Nigerian side of the border, and identifying a core protected area in Tchabal-Mbabo, with surrounding areas managed by local communities.

The study, which begins this month is expected to take 15 months. It is receiving US$390,000 in funding from the United Nations Development Programme and the Global Environment Facility, a member of the World Bank Group.

Key species of global conservation concern found on both sides of the border include Cameroon Greenbul, Andropadus montanus, Bangwa Forest Warbler, Bradypterus bangwaensis, Crossley’s Ground-thrush, Zoothera crossleyi, and the Vulnerable Bannerman’s Weaver, Ploceus bannermani, according to BirdLife International.

BirdLife coordinates the Important Bird Area program, which aims to identify and protect a network of critical sites for the world’s birds using standardized, internationally agreed criteria. These sites shelter bird species that are globally threatened, have restricted ranges, are confined to particular biomes and/or congregate in large numbers.

Gashaka Gumti is Nigeria’s largest National Park, covering 6,670 square kilometers. Although fully protected as a national park since 1991, the park is being encroached upon by cattle grazers and farmers.

The smaller Tchabal-Mbabo, which covers around 30,000 hectares in Cameroon, has no formal protection. Tchabal Mbabo lies close to the Nigerian border and, at 2,456 meters, its summit is the highest point on the Adamaoua plateau.

Due to their inaccessibility, the forests on the steep north facing slopes are virtually intact, BirdLife says. The plateau grasslands suffer from overgrazing and erosion by Fulani cattle; some montane forest on the plateau has recently given way to maize plantations.

Part of Gashaka Gumti is situated on the mountainous Mambilla Plateau. There are also extensive lowland areas. The landscape is undulating and rugged, BirdLife says, with some escarpments rising up to 2,400 meters, which makes the park largely inaccessible except on foot. An extensive system of pristine streams and rivers drain the park and join to form the Taraba River which, in turn, discharges into the Benue.

Both Gashaka Gumti and Tchabal-Mbabo are rich in large mammal species, including a population of a distinct subspecies of endangered chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes vellerosus, found only in eastern Nigeria and western Cameroon.

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The banded wattle-eye is endangered and endemic to Cameroon. (Photo courtesy BirdLife)
In addition to the trans-boundary conservation project, BirdLife International is about to embark on an ambitious project with a wide cross-section of Cameroon society to protect valuable tropical forests and fill in considerable knowledge gaps about one of Earth’s most biodiverse nations. The project was formally announced at the BirdLife event, Site Support Groups and Protected Areas, held on Thursday at the World Parks Congress.

The project will be funded by around 1 million euros from the European Union’s Tropical Forests program. Its goal is to protect some of the world’s most endangered rainforests, as well as many endemic species found in them.

Cameroon is home to at least fifteen globally threatened bird species, six of which qualify as endangered under the IUCN – World Conservation Union Red List criteria.

With the help of BirdLife’s Partner in Cameroon, Cameroon Biodiversity Conservation Society, a central government database of biodiversity distribution will be compiled. In addition, the project seeks to evaluate the effectiveness of the current protected area’s system for threatened species, identifying where efforts may be best concentrated.



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