The Mount Cameroon landscape supports forests known to be of exceptional scientific, economic and social value, containing a great variety of endemic and endangered flora and fauna species, supplying many commercial and subsistence forest products, as well as providing valuable ecosystem services such as watershed protection. Mount Cameroon is a biodiversity hotspot and is the most diverse ecosystem in Cameroon – the 10th most conservable places in the world (IUCN 1994). The area harbours the last near isolated and threatened population of the forest elephant in the region.
The western slope of Mount Cameroon is probably the most diverse and richest area of the mountain and is the only area in West and Central Africa where there is an unbroken vegetation gradient from evergreen lowland rainforest at sea-level, through montane forest, to montane grassland and alpine grassland near its summit. This link between ecosystems largely accounts for the biological diversity of the region. Six main vegetation types have been identified on the mountain: Lowland rainforest (0-800m above sea level), Submontane forest (800-1600m asl), Montane forest (1600-1800m asl), Montane scrub (1800-2400m asl), Montane grassland (2000-3000m asl) and Sub-alpine grassland (3000-4100m asl).read more
Mount Cameroon is known for its exceptional plant diversity and high number of endemic species with over 2,435 species of plants in more than 800 genera and 210 families. Of these 49 plant taxa (species, subspecies, and varieties) are strictly endemic to Mount Cameroon and 50 are near endemic plant species (also occurring in Bamenda Highlands, Oku, Kupe, Korup, Obudu Plateau and Bioko – Cable and Cheek 1998, Cheek et al. 1994, Tchouto 1995). Almost all of the plant families endemic to tropical Africa such as Huaceae, Medusandraceae, Lepidobotryaceae, Octocknemataceae and Hoplestigmataceae are found on Mount Cameroon and the surrounding foothills (Cheek et al. 1996). Of the 49 endemic species, 11 occur in montane forests between 800 and 1,800 m, and 29 in lowland forest. Thus, lowland forest contains the largest number of endemics, followed by the lower montane forest, which deserve special attention as they are the most threatened. The explanation for the high level of endemic plant species and the fascinating pattern of vegetation stems from the fact that Mount Cameroon is most likely part of an important Pleistocene refuge (Maley 2002). Maley and Brenac (1998) found peaks of caesalpinioid pollen in Lake Barombi Mbo sediments corresponding to the wetter climate phases of the last 28,000 years.
Mount Cameroon is also known for its high habitat diversity and exceptional ecological features. It has a wide range of habitats including lowland evergreen rainforest, submontane forest, montane forest, grassland and recent lava flow communities. Because of the heavy cloud cover and the consequent high humidity that envelop the forest at higher altitudes, the submontane and montane forests are also called “Cloud or Mist Forest”. The cloud forest is very rich in epiphytes and trees are intensively covered with mosses, lichen and vascular epiphytes.
Mushroom biodiversity is rich in Cameroon, and remains poorly explored. At least some 133 macrofungi are known for Mount Cameroon. Tonjock et al. (2011) identified at least 15 different species that are edible among the Bakweri people. Species used for ethnomedicine among the Bakweris belonged to several genera, including Termitomyces, Auricularia, Agaricus, Daldinia, Dictyophora, Pleurotus, Russula, Trametes, Chlorophyllum, and Ganoderma. Mushrooms are also used as love charms, for dispelling evil spirits, and as part of cultural festivals (Tonjock et al. 2011).
Mount Cameroon is home to a wide range of habitats that host many endemic, rare and threatened wildlife species, including primates like the drill (Papio leucophaeus), chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), putty-nosed monkey (Cercopithecus nictitans), mona monkey (Cercopithecus mona), red-eared monkey (Cercopithecus erythrotis), red-cap mangabey (Cercocebos torquatus), Preuss’ guenon (Cercopithecus preussii) and crowned guenon monkey (Cercopithecus pogonias).
The forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) is one of the flagship species of the Mount Cameroon National Park. To get an understanding of ranging behaviour and seasonal movement patterns five forest elephants were collared with satellite emitters on Mount Cameroon since 2007 (Loomis 2007). Preliminary analysis of data from collared elephants showed that all five elephants essentially stayed within the boundaries of the Mount Cameroon National Park (WWF 2010). The elephant population on Mount Cameroon seems to be divided into two separate and distinct populations.
Other large mammals found in the Mount Cameroon National Park include the Yellow-backed duiker (Cephalophus sylvicultor), Bay duiker (Cephalophus dorsalis), Blue duiker (Cephalophus monticola), Bush buck (Tragelaphus scriptus) and the Red river hog (Potamochoerus porcus). It is becoming obvious that both forest elephant and chimpanzee are the most frequently encountered large mammals. Overall, forest elephant densities are stable, and chimpanzee densities increasing. However, almost all other monkey species are disappearing at an alarming rate as they were either no longer encountered (e.g., drill or red-eared guenon) or at extremely low rates for the last 10 years. A response to the hunting pressure seems to be that encounter rates were highest at mid-altitudes and mostly absent at low altitudes. Most of the species are even only found at high altitudes or at the forest/montane savannah boundary (transition forest).
Considering small mammals, there are at least 22 species of bats present. Most of them are confined to the lowland and lower montane rainforest up to 1000 m. Only Miniopterus inflatus and Rhinolophus alticolus are found up to the elevation of Mann’s Spring at 2260 m asl where insects are still to be found. Small mammals which are strict endemic to the mountain are Eisentraut’s Shrew (Crocidura eisentrauti), Arrogant Shrew (Sylvisorex morio) and Mount Cameroon Brush-furred Rat (Lophuromys roseveari); another near-endemic is the Cameroon Praomys (Praomys morio) (Fotso et al. 2001, Birdlife International 2014, IUCN 2014).
The submontane and montane habitats are part of the Cameroon Mountains Endemic Bird Area (EBA). Twenty of the 28 restricted-range bird species of the EBA have been recorded on Mount Camer-oon, including the two strictly endemic species Francolinus camerunensis and Speirops melanocepha-lus (IUCN/WWF, 1994). So far a total of 210 species of birds has been recorded, of which eight are threatened. These include the Mount Cameroon Francolin (Francolinus camerunensis), the Black capped Speirops (Speirops lugubris) and the Mount Cameroon Rough Wing Swallow (Psalidoprocne spp.). The Cameroon Blue-headed Sunbird (Nectarinia oritis) is endemic while the Grey-necked Picathartes (Picathartes oreas) is rare (Hořák 2014).
Reptiles and amphibians
Eighty-six (86) reptile species, representing more than one third of the reptile fauna known in Camer-oon, are found in the Mount Cameroon area, making Mount Cameroon National Park one of the richest in the country. The lowland forest has the greatest number of species (58), followed by the submontane forest (45), montane forest (21), and marine (4) species. A number of rare or little known reptiles are there to be found like the present, including the skink Lacertaspis gemmiventris and the blind snake Typhlops decorosus. Mount Cameroon appears not to have any strictly endemic reptile species, but it hosts two regional montane endemics Chamaeleo montium and Lacertaspis gemmiventris (Gonwouo et al. 2007).
Amphibian species of conservation concern include an endemic toad (Werneria preussi) and near-endemics, such as the four-digit toad (Didynamipus sjostedti), Tandy’s small tongue toad (Werneria tandyi) and a frog (Arthroleptis bivittatus) (Birdlife International 2014, IUCN 2014). Recently a frog species collected in 1906/7 by O. Rau and C. Feldmann at Bibundi was re-examined and named Hyl-ambates rufus aubryioides (Köhler 2009). The species has not been recorded after this record.
Brummett et al. (2010) investigated the ornamental fish potential at Mount Cameroon and surroundings. In total, 35 species of fish representing 22 genera and 14 families were captured. Chiambeng and Dumont (2005) investigated the plankton Branchiopoda (Crustacea: Anomopoda, Ctenopoda and Cyclestherida) in freshwater of the rainforest environment of Mount Cameroon. A total of 22 species were encountered including one of only two endemic species of Cameroon, Bryospilus africanus.
A total of 70 species of butterfly have been recorded on Mount Cameroon including 3 endemic species, e.g., Charaxes musakensis is known from nowhere else (Fotso et al. 2001). At least one endemic spider species Triaeris fako is known to occur in the Mount Cameroon in the goblin spider genus Triaeris (Platnick et al. 2012).
Land cover map of the TOU of Mount Cameroon (Source PSMNR-SWR 2014)
The rich volcanic soils of Mount Cameroon are an attraction to immigrants and agro-businesses whose actions directly or indirectly threaten the rich biodiversity of the area. Some 100 000 inhabitants live in 41 villages in the vicinity of the park, and the number is growing. They are mostly poor and highly dependent on the forest for farming, timber and NTFPs collection as well as bush meat. Most of the exploitation is unsustainable and illegally. In all, the key biodiversity threats include the following:
• Land clearance for commercial and subsistence agriculture, large-scale development projects, unsustainable commercial logging
• Uncontrolled burning
• Unauthorized commercial fuel wood collection.
The underlying factors to the threats include the following:
• Absence of inter-sectorial coordination on land acquisition and integrated land use plan
• Increasing human population
• Presence of large-scale agro-industrial plantations
• Low income and high dependence of local communities on forest resources