Gashaka-Gumti National Park being the largest and most biologically and ecologically diverse of the seven National Parks in Nigeria, can boast of breathtaking scenic beauty and an abundant wildlife. It was gazetted from two game reserves in 1991 and is Nigeria’s largest national park. The park lies in the mountainous northeastern region of Nigeria, bestriding the southeastern part of Taraba, which makes up the Gashaka enclave, bordering the temperate Mambilla Plateau, and the southern part of Adamawa State which is the Gumti section, stretching to the Cameroon border, particularly, the Faro National Park in Cameroon. Thus, the park is divided into two sections, north and south, with each having its unique habitat and unique species of fauna and flora. There is abundant river flow even during the markedly dry season. Enclaves for local Fulani pastoralists exist within the park boundary that allow for farming and grazing.
The Conservator of the Park, Dr Agboola Okeyoyin, said the park’s ecosystems are essential for specification, citing the montane forests in the Gashaka enclave to “habour at least 24 threatened plant species, several of which are Afromontane endemics. Prunus Africana, a specie believed to poss certain medicinal properties for the cure of prostate cancer, is found in the thick forest fragments of the Park.”
The park, with an estimated landmass of 6, 731 square kilometers of rolling landscape and deep plunging valleys, also has pleasant natural scenic attractions that can sweep the tourist off his feet. But the biggest challenge is the rugged terrain. If you are not adventurous, your heart will make so many somersaults taking a bumpy ride in the land rover, from Bodel, at the entrance of the park, through the winding jeep track, often plunging down the deep valleys and then labouriously climbing up the steep hills.
The park is home to a variety of animals including rare and elusive leopards, endangered elephants, lions, wild dogs, antelope, forest hogs, golden cats, as well as eight species of primate, including the chimpanzee, and many more. The park is also abundant with bird life, insects, aquatic life and reptiles.
Mayo Kam, the headwaters of the Taraba and Benue Rivers: Mayo Kam being the biggest river in the park takes a meandering course, with looping bends defined by sedimentary rock formations, down River Taraba, River Katsina Ala and then River Benue. Just a few metres upstream from the seasonal wooden bridge is the hippo pool. The thick foliage on the river banks, the chirping birds on the verdure boughs of the trees and the swift flowing river would give you a paradisal feeling. But just when you are about to immerse yourself in the elixir of stress and boredom and free yourself in the wild world of nature, stories about crocodiles near the river gorge and the nearby hippo pool would make hairs on the nape of your neck stand up. Nevertheless, there are safe areas that guided by the park rangers, one can still enjoy the serene waters of Mayo Kam. It is a recognized site for sport fishing and the park management, with assistance from Chester Zoo, England, has built a Rangers camp to serve a dual purpose of a fishing camp for tourists and a rangers guard post, as according to Dr Okeyoyin, villagers around there have been using harmful chemicals and explosives to fish.
Within the same Gashaka part of the park, particularly in the rainforest region, animals like the giant foresthog, leopard, yellow-backed duiker, golden cat and primate species like chimpanzees.
The Gumti section in the north of the park has vast woodland, ideal for park-viewing of most of the mammals – buffalo, lion, elephant, wild dog, waterbuck, roan antelope, giant eland kob and hartebeest.
Gumti section could also host terrific natural sceneries like Chappal Wade, the mountain of death, which is the highest peak in the country, standing at 2, 400 metres above sea level.
Recreation and leisure could be sought and ponny trekking on horses, donkeys and mules, especially along the historic German routes: Toungo to Tipsan, Toungo to Mayo Butale to Kila to Jiman to Gashaka and then from Gashaka to Salbe to Filinga to Masabere and Njawai area.
But the Park authorities said the ideal time for park-viewing, when some of the big animals could be seen in the open is from late December to April, when controlled burning is done so that animals can be seen.
Okeyoyin said: “Infrastructural development is one of the challenges we are facing but to the best of our abilities, and based on the limited resources at our disposal, we have opened jeep tracks and trails, for park-viewing, particularly, in Gashaka. From Bodel to Gashaka, it is an all season road. Then from Bodel to Majarandi, it is an all season road. Even in the northern sector, there are roads leading to the major tourists attractions. What remains in this Gumti enclave is accommodation, so we need to put up more structures so that when tourists come, they can have somewhere to sleep.”
According to Okeyoyin, Gashaka-Gumti National Park is unique in up to five ways. “It is the only park in the West African sub region that you have natural transition from savannah to rainforest, to montane. Two, the park is the only park that has the highest concentration of Chimpanzees in the West African sub region as at today. It is also where the highest peak in the country is located, that is Chappal Wade; that is a plus for us. It is also the only park in Nigeria that has a sub temperate climate. The last one is that it is the most ecologically diverse park in terms of fauna and flora.”
He added that the park is an important bird area in Africa, with over 477 species of Avi-fauna having been recently recorded which include rare and endemic species.