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The Mbe Mountains cover an area of approximately 85km² forming an important habitat corridor linking Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary with the Okwangwo Division of Cross River National Park. Lacking any formal conservation status, the Mbe Mountains are traditionally owned by the nine communities that surround the mountain and since 2007 have been managed by the Conservation Association of the Mbe Mountains with support from WCS. Rising to heights of 900m the Mbe Mountains are an important stronghold for the critically endangered Cross River gorilla Gorilla gorilla diehli, as well as a number of other unique species such as the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee Pan troglodytes ellioti, the drill Mandrillus leucophaeus, and the grey-necked rockfowl Picathartes oreas. Forest elephants Loxodonta cyclotis occasionally visit Mbe from Okwangwo.
The Mbe Mountains are surrounded by nine communities with a total population of approximately 10,000 people. With local support, and constant efforts by a team of 14 eco-guards managed by WCS, levels of hunting have been reduced compared to surrounding areas, but hunting is still a major threat. Most hunting is done with wire snares and shotguns to supply the bushmeat trade, dogs are also used occasionally. Farming and logging in surrounding lowlands threatens to isolate Mbe from adjacent forests and to destroy the two corridors linking Mbe to Afi and Okwangwo. Illegal logging, particularly for ebony, is a growing problem particularly within the lowland areas surrounding the Mbe Mountains.
Community-based Conservation. forms the basis of our current work in the Mbe Mountains. In 2007 WCS helped establish the Conservation Association of the Mbe Mountains (CAMM) to protect the forest and its wildlife as well as boosting local development. WCS has worked closely with CAMM since then – helping to produce a management plan for the area and with boundary demarcation. Building the capacity of CAMM is an important part of our work in the Mbe Mountains. In the long-term we hope to develop basic facilities to accommodate tourists and thus provide local benefits through conservation.
WCS supports SMART-based patrols by eco-guards to provide more effective protection of gorillas, chimpanzees and drill in the Mbe Mountains. We do this through training and the provision of field rations, camping allowances and essential field equipment. These patrols are focused on areas known to be inhabited by Cross River gorillas and have successfully reduced levels of hunting. WCS currently employs 14 eco-guards, most of whom are ex-hunters, to enforce local rules and regulations governing use of the area.
SMART is an improved law enforcement monitoring system and a suite of best practices that help protected area managers better monitor, evaluate and adaptively manage patrolling activities. The introduction of CyberTracker in 2009 (replaced by SMART in 2016) has helped reduce poaching and other illegal activities in the Mbe Mountains.
Monitoring of the critically endangered Cross River gorilla is an important aspect of our work which we do mainly through SMART-based ranger patrols. We are currently involved in a new project with the North Carolina Zoo and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Germany to assess the population of Cross River gorillas in Mbe. We are also collaborating together on a study of disease risk and possible transmission between Cross River gorillas, humans and livestock.
Conservation education and raising levels of awareness within the communities surrounding the Mbe Mountains is essential for long-term success and a vitally important part of our work in Mbe. We currently provide support for 11 school conservation clubs including regular field trips and exchange visits. Our outreach program also uses radio drama and film shows to spread conservation messages within the area.
Alternative livelihoods are promoted to reduce pressure on endangered species and the remaining forests. To date WCS has trained more than 100 farmers from the nine Mbe communities in various activities as an alternative source of income and to reduce levels of dependence on the forest and particularly hunting. Our approach currently focuses on making existing cocoa farms more sustainable and reducing rates of forest loss in key corridor areas, as well as bee keeping, goat husbandry and the rearing of African giant snails. An important part of our work involves women’s groups and improving the value of bush mango.