Discover the Mount Cameroon
Geology and volcanism
A fault, running nearly NE-SW between two major African plates, is the origin of Mount Cameroon and other mountains on the Cameroon Volcanic Line, running 1600 km long between Annobon island in the Atlantic Ocean and Ngaoundere Plateau inland.
The line is interpreted as the Central African Shear zone. Thus Mount Cameroon cannot be regarded only as a volcanco but as a volcano-tectonic fet (2009).
40 km to the SW of Mount Cameroon is the island of Bioko with the Pico Basile (3011m), geologically and botanically a twin of Mt Cameroon (both mountains were linked 10,000 years ago by land before the sea level rose).
Moving NW from Mount Cameroon, 100 km along the fault is Mount Kupe (2064m), highest point of the Bakossi Mountains, followed by the Manenguba Massif with a peak at 2411 m, the Bambouto Mountains (peak at 2740m), Mount Oku (3011 m) in the Bamenda Highlands and further inland more mountain ranges.
Mount Cameroon is a volcanic massif 50 km long and 35 km large oriented in NE – SW direction.The heart of Mount Cameroon and Mount Etinde (“small Mount Cameroon”) was formed by volcanic activities through rising of basalts since 80 million years ago.
More volcanic activity took part in the Quaternary (2.5 million years ago until present) building the bulk of the main massif and creating also the crater lakes at the foothills of Mount Cameroon (Debundscha, Njonji crater lakes in the South West and Barombi Koto in the North) .
The surface of the massif is formed by more than 140 recent volcanic scoria and cinder cones, created by explosive eruptions, and of lava flows. There are also some effusive volcanic mouths without cones linked to fractures.
Mount Cameroon has the most frequent eruptions of any West African volcano.
The first written account of volcanic activity could be the one from the Carthaginian Hanno the Navigator, who might have observed the mountain in the 5th century BC. He described the mountain as the “Chariot of the Gods”. Moderate explosive and effusive eruptions have occurred throughout history from both summit and flank vents Mount Cameroon is the only active volcano of the Cameroon Line and erupting roughly every twenty years.
There have been seven major eruptions recorded in the 20th Century: 1909, 1922, 1954, 1959, 1982, 1999 and 2000. The 1922 eruption on the southwestern flank produced a lava flow that reached the Atlantic coast at Idenau destroying the village of Bibundi, and a lava flow from a 1999 south-flank eruption stopped only 200 m from the sea, cutting the coastal highway close to Bakingili.
Mount Cameroon has a tropical seasonal climate, with one wet and one dry season. With the shift of the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), where winds from the northern and southern hemispheres meet, the area is at different times of year under the influence of either continental stable, cool and often dust laden winds from the North-East (Harmattan) or maritime moist, warm and unstable winds from the South-West (monsoon).
At the west coast the high rainfalls are the result of the moist air forced to rise in a short distance up and over the slopes of the mountain. Debundscha at Cape Nachtigall is the third wettest place on earth and receives 10 m of rainfall. On the rain shadow site of the mountain – the NE slopes – rainfall is only 2 m.
Rainfall tends to decrease with altitude on the mountain, the upper part of the mountain only receive 3 m per year, while the topmost part , around the peak, receives only 2 m of rain per year.
The rainy season begins in April but earlier rainfalls are not rare. The moisture-laden winds from the Atlantic Ocean bring the rains delivered from cloudbursts, accompanied by intense electrical storms and high winds.
By June or July rain falls almost continuously but less intense. (Fraser et al, 1998). The upper limits of the mountain (over 3050m) are swept by North East trade winds, which have a night temperature slightly under freezing point and little more than 5°C during the day. This forms a “condenser” on the top of the mountain. The warm air is rapidly cooled thus causing a fog and cloud which surrounds Buea and the villages on and above the 900m (Zielewska, 2004).
Air temperature is more or less constant throughout the year. Mean daily temperature drops 1 or 2°C in the wet season, but diurnal temperature variation is greater than seasonal differences (Fraser et al., 1998). Temperatures on the mountain decrease with altitude (0.6°C per 100 m height difference). E.g.
Temperatures at Fako Mountain lodge (2800 m asl) varies between 5°C (Min) and 16° (Max). At the summit temperatures go down to 1-5°C. Strong cold winds are blowing on the upper part of the mountain.
The dry season runs from November to March, and is ideal for hiking in the Park without much rain, though visibility is partly negatively impacted between January and March when the Harmattan winds from the Sahara bring dust. However the summit stands over the dust which forms a layer between 1000 and 3000 m. Best visibility and still apt for hiking are the transition periods from the rainy to dry season October/November/December and from dry to rainy season April/May/June.
Landscape and vegetation types
The Mount Cameroon Region offers an outstanding diversity of landscapes, vegetations, habitat types and ecosystems: from lowland and mountain rainforest to grasslands and volcanic “lunar” landscapes.
With clear atmospheric conditions you have splendid views to Bioko island (Equatorial Guinea) just 40 km over the ocean with the volcano Pico Basile (3011 m) and to all the coast line between Debundscha, Limbe and the mangroves up to Douala.
It can be guaranteed to the visitor that on the mountain he is discovering astonishing new surroundings and sceneries qualified by some as majestic, magic , mystical.
The western slope of Mount Cameroon 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.
There are five vegetation types on the mountain, all of which provide different experiences for visitors:
Lowland and Evergreen Rain Forest (O-800 m)
The lowland forest occurs in patches in the western slopes of the mountain and is heavily affected by human activities (agriculture and illegal timber exploitation).
This species-rich forest consists mainly of evergreen tall trees (25 – 35 m) forming a dense and fairly continuous canopy with large emergent trees poking through it.
Many emergent and canopy trees have buttresses and a number of small trees and shrubs bear their flowers directly on the trunk or larger branches.
This flower habit known as cauliflory, as well as buttressing are highly characteristic of the lowland rainforest.
Beneath the tree layer, are shrubs, tall herbs and a ground layer consisting of seedlings, low-herbs and ferns. The lower trees are usually connected by large lianas.
Ecological succession of lava flows
On lava, different phases of the succession of plant formations can be observed, from pioneer species as algae, lichen, mosses, ferns and orchids. Later other more complex herbs and scrubs install at from 45 years onwards also small trees develop.
Flora on the mount
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 (see S. Cable, M. Cheeks 1998 : the plants of Mount Cameroon – a conservation checklist).
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.
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.
The second larges flowering plant family on the mountain after the Rubiaciea with 261 species are the Orchidacea with 147 species. 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).
Fauna on the mountain
Big mammals to small mammals, birds, insects, reptiles and amphibians...
Mount Cameroon National Park has been classified “exceptional priority site” for the conservation of the Nigerian-Cameroon Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes ellioti) EN, the most endangered of the four recognized chimpanzee subspecie (see Regional Action plan for the conservation of the Nigerian-Cameroon Chimpanzee, Morgan B.J. et al. 2001).
Other endangered and threatened primates are the Drill (Mandrillus Leucophaeus leucophaeus) EN, Preuss’ guenon (Allocchrocebus preussi preussii) EN and Red-eared monkey (Cercopithecus erythrotis camerunensis) VU. Present are also the Red-capped Mangabey (Cercocebus torquatus) VU, Crowned Guenon (Ceropithecus pogonias) VU, Putty nosed monkey (Cercopithecus nictitans) LC, and Mona Monkey (Cercopithecus mona) LC.
As nocturnal primates, also present are several species of Galago and a potto (buThe park hosts forest elephants (Loxodonta africana cyclotis) on its southern and western flank, probably populations living most high in altitude in the world, being observed up to 2000 m altitude.
Most prominent to be seen on the mountain, specially in the savannah is the bush bock (Tragelaphus scriptus). Other big mammals present are the Bay duiker (Cephalophus dorsalis),
Blue duiker (Cephalophus monticola), Yellow backed duiker (Cephalophus sylvicultor), and the Red river hog (Potamochoerus porcus).
Most of the animals are present in the sub-montane and montante forests.
Mount Cameroon culture
Mount Cameroon is very closely linked to the culture of the Bomboko and Bakweri people. Its native name Fako in Bakweri language and Mongo ma Loba ("Pillar of God") in the Douala language. The local people have shrines on the mountain and inside the National Park. They are in relationship with “Efasa Moto”, the God of the Mountain, a powerful being, half human and half rock; generous and bountiful but severe to transgressors who are greedy and inconsiderate of the environment.
The Totem of the local people is the elephant “Njoku” in Bakweri language, the member of the secret “Male” society, the « Vato va njoku », can transform in elephants and have “their” elephant in the mountain. Another male secret society is the “Nganya” also having some animals as totems. On the female side there is the “Liengu” society.
The Bakweri use quite a number of plants for traditional medicine and rituals. For example the dried and grounded bark of the Mbeli tree from the grassland is used in a ritual to express unity between family members of the maternal lineage. The local population is supporting the efforts for the protection of the park and the conservation of their patrimony with all its natural and cultural values. “According to Bakweri oral tradition, Efasa-Moto is the male component of the Liengu la Mwanja or the legendary "Mammy Water." It is said that after an agreement between the two, Efasa-Moto chose to live in the mountain and while the Liengu la Mwanja remained at sea. It is believed that Efasa-Moto and Liengu la Mwanja are the greatest spiritual figures that the earth has ever known.
Physically, Efasa-Moto's is described as being divided vertically from top to bottom in a strange mixture of half human and half stone, and yet shaped in the form of a man giving a complete picture of a goat standing on its hind legs. Liengu la Mwanja on the other hand is a beautiful looking woman with an oval-shaped face, an enchanting smile with a love gap-tooth, overflowing hair of dark wool resembling a beautiful Indian lady with high and well curved hips. Efasa-Moto lives in the mountain alone. He maintains a rich healthy sugar cane plantation.
His visitors can eat the sugar cane on the spot but cannot carry any away. It is said that the sugar cane is has an unforgettable sweetness. Efasa-Moto is also said to be the mountain's spiritual protector. In times of old, dead albinos were abandoned on the mountain as offerings of appeasement to the mountain god so that he could continue to bless the inhabitants at the foot of the mountain. Some elders say Efasa-Moto helped the Bakweri defeat the Germans in the Battle of Bokwango of 1891. The elders add that the Bakweri eventually lost the war because they betrayed Efasa-Moto's trust.”