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On July 31, Earth.Org reported that the president of Cameroon had approved a logging concession in the Ebo Forest that would threaten the species living there. Now, nearly three weeks after the fact, President Paul Biya has withdrawn the decree and has suspended the process for a second concession to log 170 000 acres of forest land. Conservationists are hopeful that the government will embark on an inclusive land-use planning process with local communities to determine the future of Ebo Forest.

Ebo Forest is the ancestral land of more than 40 communities and remains one of the last intact forests in central Africa. Besides being a biodiversity hotspot, the local Banen communities depend on Ebo Forest for food and traditional medicines so any non-consensual development of the forest would heavily affect them. Before Cameroon’s independence in 1960, many communities lived in the forest and their patriarchs and matriarchs are buried there.

The Cameroonian government had signed an international agreement to protect gorillas and their habitats July 20, but two days later it issued a decree establishing a logging concession in Ebo Forest. 

Ebo Forest is a hotspot for conservation research and discoveries. The forest provides critical habitat for many species of endangered primates including gorillas, chimpanzees and red colobus monkeys. Researchers believe that the small population of gorillas in Ebo may be a new subspecies because they are geographically distinct from other populations of western lowland and cross river gorillas. In 2005, researchers discovered that the tool-wielding Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees in Ebo Forest are culturally distinct from any other group of chimpanzees in Africa and are the only chimpanzees to use tools to both fish for termites and crack hard-shelled nuts.

“The president’s intervention to halt the imminent destruction of this unique forest is hugely welcome,” said Bethan Morgan, San Diego Zoo Global’s Central Africa Program head, who has been working to conserve the great apes of Ebo since she first observed gorillas there in 2002. “We hope that the international community will seize this opportunity to work with the government of Cameroon to make Ebo a showcase for long-term conservation in harmony with very challenged communities. These communities have been responsible for the preservation of the treasures of Ebo to date, and an inclusive land-use planning process is now needed to fully share information in order to make clear and calculated judgements about the future of the forest and its people.”

Ebo Forest makes up half of the Yabassi Key Biodiversity Area, making it a site of global importance to the planet’s overall health and the persistence of biodiversity. It sequesters 35 million tons of carbon. Botanical survey efforts, supported by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew with Herbier National Camerounais, have resulted in the discovery of 29 species new to science, and the area is known to contain 52 globally threatened species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The forest is also a proposed tropical Important Plant Area.

Cameroon’s Minister of Forestry signed two orders on February 4, proposing the classification of two forestry management units for timber extraction in Ebo Forest. The units would have destroyed the entire gorilla habitat and would have leveled the western part of the forest. The orders were posted publicly on March 9, but that did not give the local communities living around Ebo sufficient time and opportunity to provide their input.

In April, more than 60 conservationists, including experts from the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Species Survival Commission’s Primate Specialist Group and Global Wildlife Conservation, signed a letter to Cameroon’s Prime Minister Joseph Ngute, asking that the plans for the logging concessions be put on hold and the government work with local communities to develop a sustainable land-use plan. They argued that adopting a more inclusive process would signal to Cameroon’s international partners that the government intends to honour its commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Chief Victor Yetina of Ndikbassogog and a representative of the Association Munen Retour aux Sources, and Ekwoge Abwe, manager of the San Diego Zoo Central Africa Program’s Ebo Forest Research Project, issued a joint statement following the news:  “We welcome the suspension for now of logging plans in Ebo Forest, but are concerned that its fate remains unclear. This decision must be the first step toward recognition of Banen’s rights and forest protection. We call on the government of Cameroon to adhere to its international commitments, and to promote participatory mapping and land-use planning with local communities. Land tenure reform must have at its core the full recognition of communities’ rights. We also call on international donors and NGOs to support these processes with technical expertise and resources, both in Ebo Forest and across the Congo Basin.”

Featured image by: Laurent de Walick

On July 22, Cameroon approved a logging concession in Ebo Forest in the Littoral region, despite the fact that the forest is home to many species of endangered primates, including gorillas, chimpanzees and red colobus monkeys. Ironically, the government signed an international agreement to protect gorillas and their habitats just two days previously. 

The government has planned to extract timber from the Ebo forest since at least February, when the country’s Minister of Forestry signed two orders proposing the classification of two forestry management units for timber extraction in the forest without consulting the local communities living around the forest or allowing them an opportunity to give their input. Ebo is the ancestral home of more than 40 communities. They depend on the forest for food and traditional medicines.

In response to this, in April, more than 60 conservationists, including experts from the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Species Survival Commission’s Primate Specialist Group and Global Wildlife Conservation, wrote a letter to Prime Minister Joseph Ngute, asking that the plans for the logging concessions be put on hold and the government work with local communities to develop a sustainable land-use plan. 

Instead of logging Ebo Forest, they suggested, sustainable land-use alternatives could be a viable option for generating revenue for Cameroon, supporting the socio-economic livelihoods of Ebo’s nearby communities, and protecting this critical habitat for some of Africa’s most endangered wildlife, including gorillas. They argued that allowing a more inclusive process would show the international community that the government intends to honour its commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The government did not respond.

You might also like: Tiger Populations in India Have Increased More Than 30% In Four Years- Report

cameroon logging gorillas
A camera trap photo of a gorilla in Ebo Forest in Cameroon (Photo provided by Global Wildlife Conservation). 

Russ Mittermeier, chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission Primate Specialist Group, chief conservation officer for Global Wildlife Conservation and a signatory of the letter to Cameroon’s government, says, “The Ebo Forest is a globally important ecosystem that is home to some very endangered species such as Preuss’s red colobus. I cannot comprehend why the government would issue a logging concession for short-term gain to destroy such an important part of Cameroon’s natural heritage. The future value for ecotourism alone would far outweigh the value of the timber, never mind all the other ecosystem service values that the forest provides for local communities.”

The Ebo forest makes up half of the Yabassi Key Biodiversity Area, and it is vitally important to the planet’s overall health. It sequesters 35 million tons of carbon and its destruction will exacerbate the climate crisis. The 1 500 square-kilometer forest, which was once slated to become a national park, is home to forest elephants, 12 endemic species of plants, a potentially new subspecies of gorillas and 700 endangered Nigerian-Cameroon chimpanzees.

The forest was also once home to the critically endangered Preuss’s red colobus monkey, a species found only in western Cameroon and southeastern Nigeria. The 17 species of red colobus monkeys are among the most threatened primate groups in mainland Africa.

Researchers have not been able to confirm the presence of Preuss’s red colobus in the Ebo forest since 2012. Hunting for the bushmeat trade has likely greatly reduced their numbers. Red colobus are usually the first primate species to disappear from forests with heavy hunting pressure. If they disappear from an area, it is likely that many other species are suffering and in decline as well. If Preuss’s red colobus are still present in the Ebo forest, conservationists fear the logging concession, which will increase hunting pressure, could permanently prevent the species from rebounding.

Earth.Org received this information from Global Wildlife Conservation, which conserves the diversity of life on Earth by safeguarding wildlands, protecting wildlife and supporting guardians. It does this through scientific research, biodiversity exploration, habitat conservation, protected area management, wildlife crime prevention, endangered species recovery and conservation leadership cultivation. Learn more at https://globalwildlife.org

Featured image by: Global Wildlife Conservation.

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