Ecotourism in Cross River State, Nigeria

Ecotourism is a leading industry in the world today. Ecotourism offers economically viable ways of protecting ecosystems while also providing jobs and supporting community development. This tri-bottom line, of profit, people and the planet , meets the needs of the state government, local communities and critical forest ecosystems. This case study explores the potential of ecotourism for local economic development and ecological conservation in Cross River State (CRS), Nigeria.

Cross River State is endowed with substantial regions of tropical forest that is the habitat for several rare primate species, making it a potential ecotourism hotspot. The environmental non-government organization CERCOPAN (Centre for Education, Research and Conservation of Primates and Nature) together with the community of Iko Esai are spearheading an ecotourism initiative worthy of consideration and replication in other areas of CRS. CERCOPAN works in collaboration with other partners of the Cross River Environment and Capacity Development Project (CRE Project) to build capacity for ecotourism. Some critical success factors of this work include:

•Working with a community-based approach to conservation and ecotourism planning; 
•Raising awareness and educating on the value of the rainforest in both rural and urban areas; 
•Engaging in a tri-sector approach to ecotourism planning and implementation with civil society (community-based organizations and environmental non-government organizations), government ministries and the private sector; and 
•Maintaining and enhancing a cross-sectoral network of individuals and groups to support the success of this work. 

The CRE Project partners and members of the Nigeria-Canada Coalition have developed evidenced-based policy recommendations for future tourism development in Cross River State (detailed in Appendix Two).

Ecotourism holds immense potential for Cross River State as a viable economic alternative and a strategy to protect its globally significant rainforests. It is a promising sustainable development initiative that would positively impact rural villages, the state government, and the flora and fauna of Cross River State.

Table of Contents



3.1 Economic, Social and Ecological Dimensions of Ecotourism7
3.2 Community-Based Conservation9
3.3 Capacity for Policy Influence – Ecotourism Write-Shop10

4.1 Policy Influence and Capacity Development12
4.2 Community Support and Networking12
4.3 Awareness Raising13





Theme – Natural Resource Management18
Theme – Socio-Economic Impacts of Ecotourism18
Theme – Finances19
Theme – Governance and Implementation19
Tourism has become one of the world’s largest industries, with an estimated US $ 3 trillion in annual revenues and expanding at an average rate of 4-5 percent annually. In comparison, nature tourism has been increasing at an annual rate of between 10-30 percent, highlighting an important trend in tourism development.1 Increasingly national governments and civil society organizations are seeking to more carefully plan and implement tourism development as a sustainable economic initiative and as a successful conservation strategy. In this way, ecotourism can provide economic prosperity and preserve the environment.

Great examples of ecotourism projects exist all over the world. For example, the non-governmental organization, Conservation International, has many ecotourism projects that address economic livelihood needs and promote biodiversity of critical ecosystems throughout the world. Some examples of their projects include: Madidi National Park in Bolivia, the Upper Guinean Forest in Ghana, the Maya Biosphere Reserve in the Petén Region in Guatemala and many others ( Ecotourism.pdf). Appendix 1 lists other successful ecotourism projects, promoted by Responsible Tourism in the UK, which supports economic growth as well as community development and conservation objectives.

Ecotourism’s ability to meet socio-economic and sustainability objectives makes it a viable option for forest communities, private businesses and the state government in Cross River State, Nigeria. Initiatives that are able to merge economic, social and ecological needs are particularly welcomed for this state in Nigeria.

The environmental non-governmental organization CERCOPAN (Centre for Education, Research and Conservation of Primates and Nature) offers a good example of the economic and ecological potentials of ecotourism in Cross River State (CRS). CERCOPAN is spearheading an ecotourism project that includes primate rehabilitation, education and research, working towards the larger objectives of forest conservation and community development. CERCOPAN works in close collaboration with the nearby community of Iko Esai and is further supported, in part, by the Cross River Environmental and Capacity Development Project (CRE Project) . A key feature of the CERCOPAN- Iko Esai ecotourism project is the requirement that the forest area be designated “Rhoko Special Reserve” and managed collaboratively by Iko Esai and CERCOPAN.

CERCOPAN’s ecotourism and conservation work with Iko Esai is an inspiring project in Nigeria. And it is also a unique one. Most of Nigeria is environmentally degraded, with less than 4% of the once-lush rainforest left; desertification is an increasing threat across Nigeria, leaving most of the country without the option of ecotourism. Ogbonnaya (2003) explains (2003):
Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize that we cannot eat money.

“The consequences of deforestation in Nigeria are evident everywhere. The most devastating consequences include erosions and desertification. While desertification has become virtually irreversible in the North, gully erosion has made parts of the region look like lunar landscapes.”

Cross River State, on the other hand, is home to one of the last remaining contiguous forest stands in West Africa and is still a unique habitat for several primate species. The forest ecosystem stabilizes local weather patterns and provides water in this region of Nigeria. Ezeala (2003) argues:

“We should be able to harness the potential of our forests in the development of ecotourism and scientific research rather than revel in illegal logging and wildlife trafficking.”

Partners  of  the  CRE  Project  have  taken  up  this challenge, and are seeking to fashion a sustainable development strategy that ensures the prosperity of forest communities as well as the conservation of the forest ecosystem.

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Ugwu, A. (2018). Ecotourism in Cross River State, Nigeria. Afribary. Retrieved from

MLA 8th

Ugwu, Anderson "Ecotourism in Cross River State, Nigeria" Afribary. Afribary, 29 Jan. 2018, Accessed 14 Apr. 2024.


Ugwu, Anderson . "Ecotourism in Cross River State, Nigeria". Afribary, Afribary, 29 Jan. 2018. Web. 14 Apr. 2024. < >.


Ugwu, Anderson . "Ecotourism in Cross River State, Nigeria" Afribary (2018). Accessed April 14, 2024.