Mount Oku: A Veritable Biodiversity Hotspot

Mount Oku, with a height of 3,000 meters, is the second-tallest mountain along the Cameroon Volcanic Line, which begins as a string of islands in the Gulf of Guinea and continues inland along the border of Cameroon and Nigeria.

Oku itself is situated in the Western High Plateau, an inland region of the chain that is of particular interest to researchers. This is due to many of the dormant volcanoes hosting unique species, which are kept, separate from their relatives in pockets of high-elevation rainforest. Within the past 15 years however, Mount Oku has begun to receive special attention within this volcanic group.

‘In the past, this area was conserved by Birdlife International who aimed to conserve forest birds found only on Mount Oku,’ said Blackburn, a UK based amphibian biologist. However, recent work by amphibian biologists on Mount Oku, shows that new species have been discovered and described, including quite a number of frogs that are found only on Mount Oku or very near to the mountain.

In fact, of the 50 amphibian species currently thought to inhabit Mount Oku, five – six, if the newly described Phrynobatrachus is indeed a new species, amphibians are endemic;seven are endemic to the Western Highland Plateau.

Mount Oku is unique, in part, as it possesses a particular quality that many other mountains lack: a crater lake. One frog species, the Lake Oku clawed frog, (Xenopus longipes) is found only in that crater lake, and another, the Lake Oku puddle frog (Phrynobatrachus njiomock) is found only in the forest around the lake. This rainforest, with a high summit and grasslands at the peak, makes Mount Oku a unique site within Cameroon as it contains a large host of endemic species.

The amphibians on the mountain are threatened by a cocktail of danger, including deforestation, climate change, pesticide use, and over-exploitation. There has also been an increase in chytrid fungus on the mountain in recent years.

Some management measures that have been put in place to conserve this biodiversity hot spot include the following; (1) Establishing a code of best practice for controlled burns on the summit by grazers. This is the first action plan produced for this irreplaceable and valuable ecosystem. It will be subsequently reviewed on a periodical basis to enable its adaptive management. (2) Engaging with bee keepers, who work at or near the summit, to reduce risk of fires.(3) Researching ecosystem quality of the summit (4) Conducting a census of livestock owners on the summit and enumerating the actual number.

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