National Parks around the world have been created for various different reasons whose function may combine ecological, spiritual, socio-economic, scientific, cultural, educational and recreational values. National Parks provide us with one of the best ways to safeguard the Earth's living diversity. They are vital for the maintenance of life-support systems on the planet and for the improvement of human social and economic conditions. Moreover, National Parks contribute positively to the economic, cultural and spiritual wealth of nations.
Gashaka-Gumti National Park fulfils a number of specific conservation roles.
The park serves as the main catchment area for the Taraba River, a major tributary of Nigeria's second largest river, the Benue. Protecting forested slopes within the park, known as watersheds, ensures that essential water resources of the Benue are conserved. Without the continued presence of these forests the river would soon reduce to a mere trickle in the dry season and would eventually silt up completely. Countless livelihood based upon fishing and farming depend upon this river for their very existence. Protecting watersheds within the National Park sustains large number of communities indefinitely, many of them located far from the actual park itself.
Different combinations of vegetation, topography, altitude, and climate, provide the National Park with a virtually unique range of habitats, supporting in turn an ecosystem of exceptionally high biodiversity. Biodiversity is the number of different plants and animals present in an area. Besides protecting biodiversity for its own sake, Gashaka-Gumti National Park holds all this biodiversity in trust for the potential benefit of future generations of Nigerians.
Traditional livelihoods in the Gashaka-Gumti region are partly based upon fishing and hunting. Protecting the vital breeding grounds of wild herbivores and fish inside the National Park provides a natural reservoir to automatically replenish stocks outside the park. Such a renewable reservoir is essential if important activities such as hunting and fishing are to survive in areas surrounding the park.
Gashaka-Gumti National Park functions as a storehouse for genetic varieties and species which may one day prove vital in meeting future human needs in areas such as medicine and agriculture. In this way National Parks can help humanity respond to tomorrow's challenges by providing a basis for human social and cultural adaptation in an uncertain and changing world.
The management of such a diverse area must be based on relevant scientific research including the monitoring of rainfall, fire, soil erosion, vegetation, wildlife numbers, human and livestock levels. The National Park is a “natural laboratory” used by scientists and students from various universities and research institutions around the world for purposes of research, training and teaching.
The National Park also fulfils an important role providing unique education opportunities for local people. Designed to raise levels of local awareness, a number of conservations clubs have been created in local schools, school-children and students are encouraged to visit Gashaka-Gumti for a direct an enjoyable learning experience, and to use the park as an outdoor classroom.
Gashaka-Gumti is far more than just a sanctuary for wild animals, all National Parks in Nigeria are expected to protect cultural as well as biological diversity. Traditional livelihoods, no less than the elephant, rhinoceros, and gorilla, are increasingly threatened with extinction. Gashaka-Gumti National Park is a conservation area that exists for the benefit of both pastoralists and wildlife, demonstrating how man hand his livestock may coexist in harmony with wildlife. These relationships embrace cultural identity, spirituality and subsistence practices, which frequently contribute to the maintenance of biological diversity. In fact many of the resources that justify establishment of National Parks include cultural landscapes and adapted natural systems originally created by long-term human activity.
The 20 th century has been a time of unprecedented ecological, political, and economic change, a time in which rural and urban environments have undergone massive transformations. Increasingly, protected areas are under threat because of a dramatic expansion in human demands upon the environment: demands that have their origins in exponential population growth, waste, and excessive consumption. If National Parks are to remain a successful form of land use they must adapt to these changes. Most National Parks now acknowledge that their long-term future depends upon gaining the support and cooperation of local communities - and that they must find ways of balancing the current urgent needs of local people against the need to conserve the environment for future generations.
Conservationists increasingly realise that they cannot continue to place the preservation of nature above the interests of human beings. To help win local support for conservation efforts, Gashaka-Gumti National Park provides benefits to local people in the form of employment opportunities, roads, clinics, and schools, rather than relying solely upon promised benefits for future generations. While National Parks alone cannot solve the problems of modern society, they can make an important contribution to a better future for all.