CERCOPAN

Project LocationCalabar, Cross River State, Nigeria
Project TypeEndangered species protection, Environmental education
Endangered SpeciesFive species of guenons, red-capped mangabeys, drill monkeys, Preuss’ red colobus, Cross River gorilla and western chimpanzee
Land Area Protected400 km2
Benefiting Locally5000
Local People Employed33
Schools Supported70
Project Websitewww.cercopan.org

Centre for Education, Research and Conservation of Primates and Nature

The rainforests of Cross River State in Nigeria are of global biological importance. They form part of the West African Guinean rainforest block, the oldest and most diverse of its kind on the entire continent and one of only 25 global biodiversity hotspots. Sadly, Nigeria’s forests are also the most threatened in the world. For more than a decade, Nigeria has experienced the highest rate of ‘old-growth’ deforestation recorded anywhere on the planet. In addition to loss of habitat, the 18 primate species in the region face the added threat of bush meat hunting which is no longer primarily for subsistence but rather for commercial trade. This type of hunting is highly unsustainable and is having a devastating impact, leaving the entire Nigerian primate community locally threatened, with some species globally critically endangered.

CERCOPAN (the Centre for Education, Research and Conservation of Primates and Nature) operates on the front line in Nigeria to preserve rainforests for both primates and people. CERCOPAN utilises a holistic approach,including education, community development, research, rehabilitation, conservation, and forest protectionto tackle the problems faced by Cross River State. This integrated strategy -- working collaboratively with local people to conserve the areas rainforest and primates—is the cornerstone of CERCOPAN’s success.

Community Conservation

From humble beginnings in 1995 as a sanctuary for confiscated primates, the organisation and its vision have grown tremendously, and CERCOPAN now operates one of the most successful community conservation programmes in the country.Working to educate people on the importance of biodiversity, the laws relating to forests and wildlife,as well as the alternatives to destructive practices, is absolutely vital to save the remarkable biodiversity that remains in this region.

Over the years, CERCOPAN has built up strong support for primate and forest conservation in communities bordering the Cross River National Park, a region that is home to many primates, including five species of guenon, red-capped mangabey, drill monkey, Preuss’ red colobus, Cross River gorilla and western chimpanzee.  Together with local communities, the project protects more than 50% of the community forest from illegal logging and farming.  Within these community forests, there are zones of use, some of which are completely protected against all exploitation, while other areas allow for sustainable hunting and collection of non-timber forest products. Primates are protected in the entire community forest, as a ban on hunting all primates has been imposed by the village Chief’s council.

Local primate hunting bans are also being implemented in each of thevillages surrounding the Park. CERCOPAN provides scouts who patrol and monitor the community forests to enforce the bans. CERCOPAN scouts work together with community members to protect an area of 400 square kilometers.  Scouts meet with community members to facilitate joint patrols, establish criteria and schedules, and publicize the new monitoring activity.  This ensures that everyone is aware of how the area will be monitored and what punishments for infractions will be enforced.  These joint patrols encourage the community to become more ‘hands on’ in the protection of their forest.

Research and Rehabilitation

Rescue and rehabilitation of primates who are victims of habitat loss and the bush meat trade are also an integral part of CERCOPAN’s conservation work.  Some one hundred and seventy primates are in captive care at CERCOPAN’s Rhoko Education, Research and Conservation Centre in Calabar, arriving as orphans and former pets.

The keeping of monkeys as pets and the hunting of monkeys are both banned by law in Nigeria, but enforcement agencies have no incentive to uphold these rules without both direct encouragement and an option of sanctuary for confiscated animals. CERCOPAN provides both of these support elements to great effect in Cross River State. CERCOPAN works side by side with the State authorities to make confiscations and to drive home the message of compliance with the law.

Whilst in CERCOPAN’s care, rescued primates serve as ambassadors for their kind, changing the attitudes of over 20,000 people who visit the sanctuary free of charge each year. Once rehabilitated, a number of these animals are slated for future release into a protected community forest as part of CERCOPAN’s goal to re-establish a thriving primate community there. CERCOPAN is also home to the only captive breeding group of Sclater’s guenons and the largest captive group of Red-capped mangabeys in the world. 

In addition, research conducted at the Rhoko Centre adds to scientific data on this little known but highly diverse and valuable forest and its wildlife.  The information collected helps the project to make sound management decisions.

All of these elements mean that the primates in CERCOPAN’s care have a very significant positive impact on protection of primates in the wild in Cross River State.

Environmental Education

CERCOPAN conducts the only formal environmental education programme in Cross River State, Nigeria.  The goal of the programme is to reduce the pressures on primates and nature by impacting the behaviors of people in rural and urban areas. CERCOPAN does this by instilling an understanding of the value of nature, primates and other wildlife, whilst improving understanding of Nigeria´s conservation laws.

CERCOPAN’s environmental education programme has been ongoing since 1996 and is a key part of the project’s overall success. 70% of income for many of the families living on the periphery of the forest comes from the sustainable harvesting of non-timber forest products. Therefore, forests are a vital part of local livelihoods and as logging continues, only bringing wealth to outsiders, this vital resource is diminished.  CERCOPAN actively reaches out to over 50 secondary schools, 20 primary schools, two universities and 20 conservation clubs, disseminating its fundamental message that conservation is the most viable long-term option for these communities.

Tusk Support

Tusk Trust has been partnering with CERCOPAN since December 2009. Tusk’s grants form a core part of the funding for a long-term multi-donor project aimed atprotecting and restoring the primate community in forests adjacent to Cross River National Park and promoting conservation of these forests as an effective park buffer zone. 

Tusk funds have allowed the project to initiate an intensive awareness campaign in neighbouring communities as well as to expand the project’s patrol and monitoring activities in the community forests.

Tusk funding also has allowed the project to provide patrols with waterproof digital cameras, two way radios, a Panasonic Toughbook laptop for use in the field, and solar panels with deep cycle batteries.  In addition, Tusk support aids in the distribution of education materials in surrounding communities.

Notes from the field
Recently, our CERCOPAN manger, Richard Mundy, was out patrolling close to the southern boundary of our Core Area (within which no hunting, trapping, logging, farming or collecting of any non-timber forest products are allowed) and came upon a large group of putty-nosed monkeys. Richard counted 18 in total and then noticed two paler monkeys with red tails: red-eared monkeys, not seen often in our Core Area, and one carrying a baby!Great news but also a concern that this large group was so close to our southern boundary and an area of farmland popular to hunters. We dispatched patrols to the area day and night but still had a nagging worry about them. Last week, to our delight, they were seen again by one of our staff, the same group of 18 putties with two red-ears, deep in our Core Area and well away from any hunting risk.
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