A proposed superhighway in Nigeria's Cross River State will displace 180 indigenous communities and threaten one of the world's great centers of biodiversity if completed, according to WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).
In response, WCS is launching an international campaign to encourage decision makers in Nigeria to pursue alternative development options to either reroute the proposed highway away from the protected areas and community forests along the border area with Cameroon, or to rehabilitate existing highways. The campaign has generated 41,786 petitions since October 14.
The process of clearing a corridor for the project has already begun but has been temporarily halted as a result of protests from local communities, which helped to initiate an environmental impact assessment, but work on the highway could restart at any time.
The WCS campaign is teaming up with the Ekuri Initiative, an award-winning forest stewardship organization run by one of the many indigenous communities in the path of the proposed highway. The Ekuri Initiative has already delivered 253,000 signatures to the federal government asking for Nigerian President Buhari to protect their precious ancestral forests, and WCS is asking its followers to sign on with their support. You can sign the petition here: http://bit.ly/2dWeKxB.
"The proposed highway poses an enormous threat to the cultures and the wildlife of the entire region," said John Calvelli, WCS's Executive Vice President for Public Affairs and Director for the 96 Elephants campaign and other public engagement efforts for conservation. "We're happy to lend our support to the Ekuri Initiative in the effort to save the local communities of Cross River State and the irreplaceable natural treasures also found there."
The new highway will stretch 162 miles in length and will feature six paved lanes with a 6-mile buffer on both sides. In addition to threatening the homes and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people, the superhighway will imperil the region's wildlife by cutting through several protected areas that help preserve habitat for forest elephants, Cross-River Gorillas, and an internationally recognized biodiversity hotspot (biodiversity hotspots).
"We implore the Cross River State government to reconsider the proposed highway and explore other ways of improving the state's infrastructure," said Andrew Dunn, Director for WCS's Nigeria Country Program. "The project as it stands will displace more than 180 local communities and greatly diminish the country's natural heritage."
Several protected areas such as Cross River National Park, Ukpon River Forest Reserve, Cross River South Forest Reserve, Afi River Forest Reserve, and the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary lie within the swath of expected development. A number of threatened species live in these sites, including forest elephants, Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees, drills, Preuss's red colobus monkeys, pangolins, slender-snouted crocodiles, African gray parrots, and many others.
The highway will also degrade habitat vital to the continued survival of the world's rarest great ape, the Cross River gorilla, which numbers fewer than 300 animals across its entire range. A proposal to list the entire border region as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Transboundary Biosphere Reserve is being developed by the Nigerian and Cameroonian governments, with the support of a number of NGOs.