26 Sep 2017

Rare Cross River gorilla still faces serious threat

The rare cross river gorilla © WCS
The rare cross river gorilla © WCS
By Jude Fuhnwi

Conservationists in Nigeria have warned that the threat of completely losing the iconic but highly endangered Cross River gorilla still stands, despite efforts by government to reroute a superhighway project that was identified as a major danger to the existence of the species. The superhighway also threatens over 280 iconic species of birds including the Grey-necked picathartes, which breeds in the Mbe Mountains and nationally uncommon species like the Golden Greenbul.

In April 2017, Nigerian officials raised hopes of conservation groups and the general public when they announced their intention to alter the path of the six-lane major road project, by shifting the route from the centre to the west of the Cross River National Park in an effort to protect the region which is a biodiversity hotspot and home to several wildlife species that include the endangered Cross River gorilla. However, conservationists have expressed concern that even though government announced the plan to reroute the superhighway, in practice, the government has not tabled a plan to demonstrate re-routing of the road. This raises fears that the threat to this globally threatened biodiversity which serves as habitat to many rare species has not been averted.

“The proposed superhighway has already produced three failed environmental assessment reports, widely criticized as being substandard, fraudulent and non-compliant with national laws and international best practices,” said Adeniyi Karunwi, Director General of BirdLife’s Nigeria Partner, the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF).

Newly proposed altered route as seen above (with red line) as published by Global Forest Watch will still cut through intact forest and protected area 

The press statement by NCF refers to a July 29th letter in which Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Environment conditionally approved the fourth version of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the project, despite obvious deficiencies. The organization supports government efforts to develop the area but insists that such large scale projects must not destroy sensitive ecological areas and biodiversity and should comply with relevant laws and conventions.  This includes being subjected to environmental and social impact studies as stipulated in the Environmental Impact Assessment Act of 1992.

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“The Cross River State government is required to fulfil 23 conditions within two weeks before the commencement of the project including; the payment of compensation to all affected persons and communities, the production of coordinates, surveys and maps of the pathway of the superhighway that is said to have been rerouted from the Cross River National Park and the Ekuri forest; as well as gazette the Reversal Order pertaining to the 10 km span buffer zone on either side of the superhighway previously contemplated,” added Mr. Karunwi.

Proposed map of the superhighway (left) and proposed rerouted direction of the superhighway (right) © WCS

NCF says that there have been publications and sketches of maps produced on the alternative Super Highway routes but government is yet to come up with a new acquisition order to show the new route, which would require further environmental impact assessment.

According to NCF, some key issues were raised in the previous environmental impact assessment report but have not been adequately addressed. They include consistent and correct baseline data; cost benefits of the routes and clear justification for the project; the impact of the highway on nearby protected areas; reference to the many rare and endangered species found in the area; mitigation measures; stakeholder engagement; social and economic study of project’s impact on about 180 communities and not only 21 of them as documented; as well as the 23 conditions for provisional approval given by the Federal Ministry of Environment.

The construction of roads through forests to meet growing development demands or for logging and mining operations in Africa has facilitated the destruction of many species of plants and animals.

“BirdLife International supports development in Africa. However as Africa rises, governments must take care of ecosystems and biodiversity as they are the ones that underpin Africa's social and economic development,” said Ken Mwathe, Policy and Advocacy Coordinator for Africa at BirdLife International.

Read the Full Press Release Here