The Oban Hills rainforest lies in the southern section of the Cross River National Park of South-Eastern Nigeria and adjoin the Korup National Park in Western Cameroon. The steep-side hills are covered in ancient Biafran type rainforest. A “neck” between village enclaves serves as a crucial link between two sections of the Oban Hills. Oban is an internationally recognized biodiversity hotspot and contains a number of important species such as the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee, the drill, Preuss’s red colobus monkey, leopard, forest elephant and the grey-necked Picathartes or rockfowl. Oban is one of the most ornithologically diverse sites in the country and the contiguous Oban-Korup forest may be the richest site in Africa for butterflies.
More than 75 mammals are recorded in the park including forest elephants, chimpanzee, drills,African buffalos, Cross river gorillas, grey checked mangabey, red colobus, guenon and 42 snake species. Six species of primates have been recorded in the park More than 250 birds are recorded in Cross river National park and they include Spot breasted ibis, Black guinea fowl, grey parrot, golden greenbul, sparrow hawk, hawk eagle, flufftail, tiger heron, wood-dove, Nkulengu rail, cuckoo, barbet, tinkerbird, owlet, spinetail, hornbill, bee-eater, kingfisher, roller, Turaco and many others. The rainy season is recorded for the months of March to November with more than 3500 mm of rainfall received in a year. The rest of the year is a dry season.
There are about 66 villages in the buffer zone surrounding the park, with the villagers dependent on the park for their livelihoods. With a growing human population, the forest is being lost to slash-and-burn agriculture and illegal logging.
Created in 1991 the Oban Division of Cross River National Park covers an area of around 3,000km² of lowland rainforest– the largest area of closed-canopy rainforest in Nigeria and contiguous with Korup National Park in Cameroon. Oban is an important watershed with hills rising above 500 m and one peak reaching approximately 1,000 m.
The Oban Hills once formed part of one of the lowland rainforest refugia during the last glacial period and is an internationally recognized biodiversity hotspot and center of species richness and endemism particularly for primates, amphibians, butterflies, fish and small mammals.
Oban contains a number of rare species such as the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee Pan troglodytes ellioti, the drill Mandrillus leucophaeus, leopard Panthera pardus, forest elephant Loxodonta cyclotis, the grey-necked rockfowl Picathartes oreas and the slender-snouted crocodile Mecistops cataphractus.
Oban is the only site in Nigeria where the Preuss’s red colobus monkey Procolobus preussi and the crowned guenon Cercopithecus pogonias can be found. The contiguous Oban-Korup forest is reputed to be the richest site in the whole of Africa for butterflies. Oban is also one of the richest and most ornithologically diverse sites in the country.
Hunting is widespread throughout Oban and as a result the density of all large mammal species is very low. Most of the hunting is done with wire snares and shotguns to supply the bushmeat trade as well as hunting of forest elephants for their ivory. Illegal logging is also a problem despite a state-wide ban on logging, with timber often floated out of the park along major rivers.
The park boundary has not been legally gazetted and as a result of this uncertainty a number of agricultural concessions for oil palm and pineapple were illegally awarded inside the park boundary. A recent issue of major concern has been the proposed ‘super-highway’ through Cross River State which threatens to have a major impact on the Oban Division of Cross River National Park and surrounding forests.
In 2011 WCS signed an MoU with the Nigeria National Parks Service which forms the basis for the current work. The agreement focuses on the provision of technical advice and support as well as the development of conservation activities such as staff training, conservation education and research and monitoring.
WCS supports SMART-based ranger patrols in Oban to provide more effective protection of chimpanzees and elephants. We do this through ranger training and the provision of field rations, camping allowances and essential field equipment.
SMART is an improved law enforcement monitoring system and a suite of best practices that help protected area managers better monitor, evaluate and adaptively manage patrolling activities. The introduction of SMART in 2016 helped reduce poaching and other illegal activities in Oban.
Monitoring of the critically endangered red colobus monkey is an important aspect of our work which we do through SMART-based ranger patrols. We are also currently involved in the preparation of a conservation action plan for all red colobus in Africa.
Transboundary conservation with the contiguous Korup National Park in Cameroon increases the total area of forest under protection, facilitates the sharing of data and information and makes conservation more efficient. We are currently supporting the process to develop Oban as a Transboundary Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site.
WCS continues to provide technical advice and spatial planning support to both the Federal Ministry of the Environment and Cross River State Government concerning the proposed Cross River SuperHighway and in particular to improve the quality of the Environmental Impact Assessment that is required by law for any large-scale development project such as the Cross River SuperHighway.
WCS is also providing technical advice and spatial planning support to the National Parks Service to help resolve the ongoing boundary issue and agricultural encroachment.