Conservation collaboration is a winner for Gola
The Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (BirdLife in Sierra Leone), The RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and BirdLife's Africa Division have joined forces with local people to help secure the future of one of the most important areas of rainforest remaining in west Africa.
75,000 hectares of the Gola rainforest in Sierra Leone will be managed by BirdLife in conjunction with seven local chiefdoms and the country’s government. The Gola Forest Conservation Concession programme was launched by Sierra Leone's President, Alhaji Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, at a ceremony close to the forest on 4 June.
Gola is classified by BirdLife as an Important Bird Area (IBA). This unique collaboration will help protect the 274 bird species recorded there, of which 14 are of global conservation concern. Much other wildlife will also benefit including Pygmy Hippos, Forest Elephants and a striped antelope known as the Zebra Duiker.
Gola will now be protected from logging and more than 40 local people are being appointed to patrol the reserve and run education programmes. The chiefdoms are being compensated for relinquishing logging rights and have already been able to repair roads and renovate schools, build churches and a mosque, and train new police officers. The long-term hope is that the rainforest will be turned into a national park to be managed by Sierra Leonians.
"Sierra Leone has recognised that conservation is an important part of sustainable development." —Dr Dieter Hoffman, RSPB
Dr Dieter Hoffman, Head of Global Programmes at the RSPB commented, "Not only is this a major opportunity to save the birds and mammals that could otherwise disappear, it is also a chance to prove that local communities can considerably benefit from the conservation of their country’s wildlife. There has been much talk amongst G8 governments about sustainable development yet here is one of the poorest countries in the world already doing it. Sierra Leone has recognised that conservation is an important part of sustainable development."
The Rufous Fishing-owl Scotopelia ussheri, Green-tailed Bristlebill Bleda eximius and the Gola Malimbe Malimbus ballmanni are amongst bird species at risk in Gola. But best known locally is the White-necked Picathartes Picathartes gymnocephalus whose appearance and nesting habits are bizarre. The picathartes nests under the area’s towering, overhanging rocks and villagers have traditionally held both these rock towers and their ‘guardian’ birds in awe.
Gola is part of the Upper Guinea Forest, which once spanned five west African countries and is classified by BirdLife as an Endemic Bird Area (EBA). Clearance for agriculture, charcoal mining and timber, has left less than 30 per cent of the original forest remaining. The bush meat trade and civil war in Sierra Leone, have posed more recent threats to its wildlife.