It may be the world's seventh poorest country, but Sierra Leone is making great steps to help conserve its internationally important tropical forests.
It is creating the Gola Rainforest National Park (GRNP), locking up an estimated 13.6 million tonnes of carbon and protecting one of West Africa's most threatened and wildlife-rich habitats.
The RSPB has been involved with Gola Forest since 1990, which is home to hundreds of bird species, chimpanzees and the world's most important population of pygmy hippo.
'This is a bold and progressive move'
Tim Stowe, the RSPB's international director, said: ‘The contribution that Sierra Leone is making is bold and progressive. In a far-sighted act, this developing West African country - which is on the front line of climate change - has decided to help the world by locking up a vast carbon store as well as protecting its unique and globally-important wildlife. We hope that other nations value this contribution and build upon it.'
If Gola Forest were razed to the ground, the release of carbon would be equal to the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by nearly 14 million cars in a year.
First initiated in 1989, a partnership agreement between the Forestry Division of the Government of Sierra Leone, the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone and the RSPB was reached in 1990 to develop a new management plan, maintain the forest boundaries and to run an environmental education programme. These partners have worked under the banner of the Gola Forest Programme since then, and the work at Gola is an important component of the RSPB's wide tropical forests programme.
The Gola Rainforest National Park covers over 71,000 hectares (just under twice the size of the Isle of Wight ) and has long been threatened by commercial logging and small-scale mining. The long-term governance of natural resources was long argued to be at the heart of the decade-long civil conflict that raged in the 1990s. The creation of the national park should subdue ongoing threats from logging and mining.
Gola forest is a global biodiversity hotspot and recent surveys have revealed 327 species of bird, including eight facing global extinction, such as the Gola malimbe, a striking black and yellow, starling-sized relative of sparrows. The unique biodiversity value of Gola can be measured in other ways too, as it also holds 518 butterfly species - approximately half of the total of Sierra Leone - including three which are new to science.
An estimated 300 chimpanzees, significant populations of monkeys and 44 larger mammal species, such as duikers - small antelopes - live in the forest, as well as the secretive pygmy hippo, which is only found in this part of Africa and is in danger of extinction.
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