Kakum National Park, located in the coastal environs of the Central Region of Ghana, covers an area of 375 square kilometres (145 sq mi). Established in 1931 as a reserve, it was gazetted as a national park only in 1992 after an initial survey of avifauna was conducted. The area is covered with tropical forest. The uniqueness of this park lies in the fact that it was established at the initiative of the local people and not by the State Department of wildlife who are responsible for wildlife preservation in Ghana. It is one of only 3 locations in Africa with a canopy walkway, which is 350 metres (1,150 ft) long and connects seven tree tops which provides access to the forest.
The most notable endangered species of fauna in the park are Diana monkey, giant bongo antelope, yellow-backed duiker and African elephant. It is also an Important Bird Area recognized by the Bird Life International with the bird area fully overlapping the park area. The bird inventory confirmed 266 species in the park, including eight species of global conservation concern. One of these species of concern is the white-breasted guineafowl. Nine species of hornbill and the grey parrot have been recorded. It is very rich in butterflies as well, and a new species was discovered in 1993. As of 2012, the densest population of forest elephants in Ghana is located in Kakum.
The Museums and Monuments Board of the Republic of Ghana has proposed that UNESCO declare the park a natural World Heritage Site under criteria vii and x. The submission made in 2000 is listed under the tentative List of World Heritage Sites.
In 1931, the area drained by the headwater catchment of the Kakum River was declared a forest reserve and managed by the Forestry Division. During this period, logging operations were prevalent, particularly of the mahogany (Khaya ivorensis) tree species. The logging operations continued till 1989 when the management of the reserve was transferred to the Wildlife Department.
A Feasibility Study and Preliminary 5-year Management Plan for the development of Kakum National Park as an ecotourism destination were developed in 1990 under a project conducted for the United Nations Development Program (Dudley 1990). The Feasibility Study included preliminary biodiversity assessments of the flora and fauna of Kakum Forest Reserve and adjoining Assin-Attandanso Forest Reserve, and an elephant population survey (Dudley 1990; Dudley, Mensah-Ntiamoah,& Kpelle 1992; Dudley 1995). The Feasibility Study and Preliminary 5-year Management Plan were developed in a collaborative and consultative process involving a consulting biologist, forestry officials, wildlife officials, local communities, Ghanaian universities, regional government officials, and other key stakeholders (Dudley 1992).
It must be recognized that one, Mr. Ebenezer Kwasi Agbley, the then Central Regional Manager for Ghana Tourist Board gave birth to this dream under a program he initiated and implemented – Tourism Development Scheme for Central Region (TODSCER)which was expanded and became CENTRAL REGION DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM under a later created Commission – Central Region Development Commission(CECECOM). He showcased the TODSCER program in America and drew a number of sponsoring institutions both bilateral and multi-lateral from the donor community for the project to its maturity. The project later brought on board Game & Wildlife to manage and maintain the Park.
In 1992, the Wildlife Department gazetted Kakum to be a park under the Wildlife Reserves Regulations (Ll 1525) as the Kakum Conservation Area including the Assin Attandanso Forest Reserve. After a survey of the faunal richness of the conservation area, it was split into the Kakum National Park and the Assin Attandanso Forest Reserve during the same year. The split was justified with the argument that Cape Coast and 33 other towns and villages continue to need timber from the forest and potable water provided by the Kakum River.
The Kakum River originates within the park, and hence the park is named after the river. Its tributaries which flow through the park are Obuo, Kakum, Afia, Sukuma, Nemimi, Aboabo and Ajuesu. It is located 33 kilometres (21 mi) north of Cape Coast and Elmina near the small village of Abrafo. It is easily accessible by taxis from the town center, and through organized tour buses. The park’s welcome center contains a restaurant, lodge, picnic area, camping area, and a wildlife education center. The park is surrounded by 33 villages and also agricultural lands where food crops and coco are grown.
The park lies within an elevation range of 135–250 metres (443–820 ft). It is part of the Guineo-Congolian region under IUCN Category II. The reserve which borders this park is the Assin Attandanso Resource Reserve (game production reserve). Its habitat consists mainly of moist evergreen forest and also seasonal dry semi-deciduous forest. The habitat is formed of 90% forest area, 36% artificial terrestrial landscape while the remaining area has not been categorised. The park area receives an annual average rainfall of 1380 mm.
The dominant vegetation type in Kakum is the wet forest. Other vegetation types encountered in the park include swamp forests (permanent and periodic) and riverine forests. Also reported are the Boval vegetation of Hildegardia barteri–Polycarpaea tenuifolia community found in exposed granite rocks and in shallow soils. 105 species of vascular plants consisting of 57 trees, 10 shrubs, 9 climbers, 17 herbs and 12 grasses are reported from the park. Epiphytic plants are also reported to grow on the trees and shrubs are orchids and ferns and also figs.
Logging operations were prevalent in the park between 1975 and 1989. It is, however, noted that the logged areas have regenerated secondary forest consisting of a thick green mantle and vine tangles. This does not extend over the entire park, as much of the dense forest still remains conserved.
Specifically IUCN identified list of flora are listed below under subheadings of Moist forests, Swamp forest, Periodic swamp forest, Riverine forest and Boval vegetation.