Cameroon Approves Logging Concession that Will Destroy Ebo Forest Gorilla Habitat
Concession Will Be a Blow for Many Endangered Primates and to Forthcoming Red Colobus Action Plan
Cameroon's Government Green Signals A Logging Concession In Ebo Forest
A logging concession in Ebo Forest in Cameroon’s Littoral region has been approved by the country’s government, even though the forest is critical habitat for many species of endangered primates, including gorillas, chimpanzees and red colobus monkeys. A decree confirming the concession was issued Wednesday, July 22. The decree is in direct opposition to an international agreement to protect gorillas and their habitats that the Cameroonian government signed on July 20.
“This is a practical example of how to accelerate the extinction of critically endangered species, like gorillas,” 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. “This forest and its resources are the lifeblood of local people who have worked so hard to conserve the unique population of gorillas and their habitat over the past decades. This government decision takes the land away from community custodianship and into the hands of those with short-term interests in mind. We can only hope that those with a long-term interest in the survival of Ebo’s communities, forest and wildlife succeed in influencing any forthcoming management plan.”
In February, Cameroon’s Minister of Forestry signed two orders proposing the classification of two forestry management units for timber extraction in Ebo Forest without giving the local communities living around Ebo sufficient time and opportunities to provide their input. Ebo is the ancestral home of more than 40 communities living around it. They depend on it for food and traditional medicines.
Petition To Put The Plans For The Logging Concessions On Hold
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 during this critical year for biodiversity that the government intends to honor its commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The government did not respond to the letter.
“The Ebo Forest is a globally important ecosystem that is home to some very endangered species such as Preuss's red colobus,” said 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. “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.”
Ebo forest makes up half of the Yabassi Key Biodiversity Area, making it a site of global importance to the planet’s overall health. It sequesters 35 million tons of carbon and its destruction will exacerbate the climate and extinction crises. 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.
Ebo Forest Is Home To Critically Endangered Preuss’s Red Colobus Monkeys
Ebo Forest was also once home to an important population of 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, but a soon-to-be-published red colobus conservation action plan offers recommendations to prevent red colobus extinctions.
Researchers have not been able to confirm the presence of Preuss’s red colobus in Ebo 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.
Instead of logging Ebo Forest, conservationists wrote in their April letter that 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.
“The Ebo Forest is a globally important site for primates and other endangered species. Decades of work with local elders and communities to protect the Ebo Forest will have been for nothing, if the logging is carried out as planned.”—Dirck Byler, great ape conservation director at Global Wildlife Conservation and vice chair of the Section on Great Apes of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group
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