Mongobay - Ebo forest great apes threatened by stalled Cameroon national park – 3 April 2020
Cameroon’s Ebo forest is home to key populations of tool-wielding Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees, along with an unspecified subspecies of gorilla, drills, Preuss’s Red Colobus, forest elephants, and a great deal more biodiversity.
The forest is vulnerable, unprotected due to a drawn-out fight to secure its status as a national park. Logging and hunting threaten Ebo’s biodiversity. The Cameroonian palm oil company Azur recently began planting a 123,000 hectare plantation on its boundary.
The Ebo Forest Research Project (EFRP) has been working successfully to change the habits of local people who have long subsisted on the forest’s natural resources — turning hunters into great ape guardians. But without the establishment of the national park and full legal protection and enforcement, everyone’s efforts may be in vain.
Ekwoge Abwe’s fight drags on. As the manager of the Ebo Forest Research Centre (EFRP), he’s been part of a long running battle to set-up a national park conserving Cameroon’s Ebo forest. Seven years ago, a World Wildlife Fund Cameroon press release trumpeted the new park, saying that its designation was imminent. A high-level forest fly-over was organized to seal the deal, with the press, government officials and community leaders all joining in.
But today, Ebo remains only the Ebo forest; with no government protection, and still seen as critically important habitat renowned for its significant populations of great apes.
The Ebo forest covers more than 1,500 square kilometers (386 square miles) in Cameroon’s Littoral region, and it is very rich in biodiversity. A healthy population of Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees (Pan troglydtes ellioti), estimated to be around 700 strong, is found within its borders. And among them is the only chimp population east of Ivory Coast known to use tools for nut-cracking. The Ebo chimps use wood and stone hammers and anvils to get at the meat of the coula nut; and they use long, flexible sticks to fish for termites.
The forest also boasts Cameroon’s only Preuss’s Red Colobus (Piliocolobus preussi) population outside of Korup National Park, as well as one of Africa’s largest populations of endangered drills, (Mandrillus leucophaeus) and forest elephants.
Ebo also harbors a mystery population of gorillas, only discovered by scientists in 2002. Two subspecies of gorilla are found in Cameroon, separated by the Sanaga River; the Western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) is found to the south of the river, and a small population of Cross River gorillas (Gorilla Gorilla diehli) is found to the north. Between them, 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of the Sanaga River, there is a third population, located in Ebo.
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