Afi Mountain Sanctuary comes under community protection
At last, Afi Mountain Sanctuary, a safe heaven for hunters of endangered species like gorillas, elephants, chimpanzees has come under community protection.
The sanctuary was carved out from its rich biodiversity. The area is inhabited by gorillas, the drill monkeys, elephants and other rare primates in Nigeria. Medicinal trees, timbers and others are also found there; hence Cross River is listed as one of the 25 biodiversity hotspots in the world.
The Drill Ranch, which has a natural habitat at the sanctuary for its chimpanzees and drills has done much to protect and help to reduce the threats besides. Similarly, the State Forestry Commission with Mr. Bette Obi as Chairman and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) led by Mr. Andrew Dunn have also put in their best to protect this sanctuary but to date findings from experts said hundreds of endangered species have lost their lives and the biodiversity there is gradually giving way to farming activities.
This scenario is not acceptable to a group of 60 young men and women from the Afi Mountain communities in Boki Local Government Area of Central Cross River state who have volunteered to take up the protection of their forest and the sanctuary that is a tourists heaven if well developed plus a good road network from Calabar in the Southern and Ogoja in the Northern parts of the state.
The Executive Director of Development Concerns (DEVCON), Mr. Martins Egot, who put together the group of 60 community forest volunteers otherwise known as Eco-Guards, said, “our interest and focus is in the conservation of our rich biodiversity of the forest of Cross River State and we have seen that protecting the forest can only be possible if the owners of the forests are involved in the process.
“ The sanctuary is facing real threat first by poachers because people feel it is some form of economy in that area and secondly so there is the experience of that. These are threats from the outside and inside. So the people themselves acknowledge that these threats are there and that is why they resolved to take up the challenge to protect it themselves.”
He said the communities with assistance from the Commission are protect the forest but havesome challenges, which neccessiated DEVCOM in collaboration with the Cross River National Park (CRNP) with sponsorship from Rainforest Rescue in Hamburg, Germany to come to their rescue.
“They are forming themselves into a strong policing force for the forest. Even though there is the presence of some government agencies like the forestry commission, WCS and so on, we think it would be better if the people took up the challenge themselves and be in the centre of fights to protect the forests”, Egot said.
The Afi Sanctuary is contagious to the CRNP and for the Conservator of Park, CRNP Evangelist Caroline Olory, “being managers of the park, we have our Ranger force that protects the park. So for Eco-Guard to help in managing the community forest is a welcome development. Cross River has the last of the remaining tropical rain forest in Nigeria. The protection of it is key for it to continue and Olori who is the first female Conservator of Park in Nigeria said as the Eco Guards are out there and are able to manage their forests and protect their forests well, of course the rangers would have less to do because “once the community forest is adequately protected and wisely managed they would have no need to come to the National Park. If that is not done and the community forest is gone, the next place would be the National Park and it would increase the challenges we already have”.
Even though for now, they don’t have access to arms and ammunition, she said “they were trained in ballistics, patrols, anti poaching techniques, combat readiness and so on just like we train our rangers.
“Also they were trained on basic ways of identifying the unique facilities you have out there of the various tourist facilities around the park but inside those community forests, there are some unique places that could be developed as tourist centres. So they as Eco-Guards, as they go in they would be able to observe the environment and alert whether what you had some years back is still what it is and if there are issues they now go back to the community and say come our forest something is happening”.
Excited with the training programme, the Chairman of the Forestry Commission, said, “there was great need for forest rangers now because in the next five years, we will not have forest rangers again if do not employ. So this Eco Guards will be the first to be employed when approval is given by the state government”
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