Lip service does not pay any dividend with any effort, no matter how long you do things with words. What pays, is doing the needful and Gabon is proving just that with its conservation efforts.
Currently, the country is home to about 1,500 gorillas at the country’s Loango National Park, which is estimated at 1550 square kilometres.
Experts say the country contains about 30,000 lowland gorillas and perhaps as many as 100,000. They say, due to the difficulties of survey methods that provide accurate results, it is difficult to estimate the premise numbers. However, spatial modelling of the distribution of of gorillas across Central Africa estimate that 25 per cent of all lowland gorillas live in Gabon.
Gabon is part of the Congo Basin, the world’s second-largest rainforest after the Amazon. The country lies on the equator, and around 88% of its land is covered with tropical forest. This makes forest cover the main ecosystem of the country with a rich and varied fauna (including the western lowland gorilla, chimpanzees and nearly 95,000 forest elephants), a diverse bird population (more than 600 species) and a wide range of flora (more than 6, 000 specimens – with more believed yet to be identified by scientists).
Therefore, conserving the forest should be of much concern to the people.
What has made it easy is the culture of the people. The country has close to 55 ethnic groups in a population of 2 million,
Instead of this diversity dividing them, it has rather united them because, “without the forest, we do not have any culture. Our people use it for food, shelter and medicine and so, we are opening up the country for others to visit to see how we have been united by the forest our forebears depended on,” said, the Executive Secretary of the Agence Nationale Des Parc Nationaux (ANPN), Christian Tchemambela.
Apart from Loanga, there is also the 6,747 square kilometre Ropanda Walker Arboretum, and 13 others that are being used to promote the country’s conservation initiative, which now covers about 11 per cent of the country’s landmass.
These are to efforts that have turned Gabon into the world’s second largest rainforest after the Amazon.
“The success of all we have done is because as a people, our culture depends on the forest. Our diverse culture is guided by how our elders lived, conserving the forest and it is what we have come to practice,” Tchemambela said.
For him, “Without the forest, our culture will disappear. Monkeys and Chimpanzees have always been part of how our people lived and so, conservation is nothing new to us. What we are doing now is to add a bit of research to make it sustainable.”
Apart from the culture of the people that had been helpful, the Minister of Water and Environment, Lee White, said the conservation efforts had been successful because of the involvement of the country’s researchers. They have been in the forefront since 2012, working to promote Gabon’s protection of marine habitats through the Gabon Bleu (Blue Gabon) initiative, which has led to the declaration of 27% of marine waters as protected areas.
White said a lot of work had also been done through research to develop an eco-tourism project as well as create a sustainable wood logging operation.
He added that, studies have shown that sustainable logging and forestry can help the woodlands refresh at a faster rate than if the forest is left alone.
He said work by these researchers have created the atmosphere for controlled logging. This will help preserve the country’s forest to ensure that there is sustained growth in the economy as well as the provision of jobs, whilst ensuring the stability and maintenance of the forest for carbon absorption.
Currently, the country is the most carbon positive nation on the planet, with current carbon dioxide emissions estimated at 40 million tonnes per annum, but through its forest it has capacity to absorb 140 million tonnes.
White said the most recent survey conducted of forest elephants, which was released in December 2021, showed that the country had become home to 60-70% of the surviving global forest elephant population.
According to him, this places stress on the country’s resources to protect its biodiversity and has seen a rise in human animal conflict at the periphery of the rainforests.
Instability in surrounding countries, for example poaching in neighbouring Cameroon and political crises in the Central African Republic, have led many at risk animals to cross into Gabon, seeking a more secure sanctuary.
White said, “Protecting the country’s biodiversity comes at a cost to the people of Gabon and if the country, which is a developing nation that is increasingly serving as a refuge for under-threat species is to succeed in its biodiversity objectives, international support will be needed to share the burden.”
The Technical Advisor for the ANPN, Omer Ntougou, said some of the researchers have concentrated their work at the Ropanda Walker Arboretum.
“The French Development Agency has provided assistance to these researchers with the building of a school and a national centre for science research to study the environment further in order to understand the country’s ecosystem,” he added.
As the country is being touted as a conservation haven, they now want to reap the dividends through tourism. Manager of Loango Park Lodge, which is preparing to open this year, Jannie Fourie said, the government had provided funding from its Sovereign funds to set up the Luxury Green Resorts in some of the parks to promote ecotourism.
“We should have opened earlier but the pandemic made us to postpone it. But now, we are ready to provide a general safari package,” he added.
. Kokutse, a journalist, writes from Accra, Ghana.