Safeguards for Largest West African Forest Considered

ABIDJAN, Cote d'Ivoire, October 4, 2001 (ENS) - West African forest conservation won support today from the President of the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire, the Ivory Coast.

In a meeting with representatives from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) President Laurent Gbagbo said he would ask other West African leaders to consider the issue of Guinean moist forest conservation as an agenda item at the December summit meeting of ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States.

Gbagbo

President Laurent Gbagbo (Photo courtesy Front Populaire Ivoirien)
The President of one of the most prosperous of the tropical African states, Gbagbo said he would mobilize his ECOWAS peers towards a West Africa summit on forest conservation.

The WWF delegation, headed by the regional representative for West Africa, Souleymane Zeba, called on the President of Côte d'Ivoire Laurent Gbagbo, to discuss tropical forest conservation issues in West Africa, the environmental organization said today.

President Gbagbo expressed his appreciation of WWF's efforts in Taï National Park with other conservation partners, and said he wanted to become a WWF member.

He said he "was born in the heart of Guinean moist forests, witnessed its degradation and its ensuing political, and socio-economic consequences on my country and the sub-region over the last 40 years."

The Tai National Park, in southwest Côte d'Ivoire about 60 miles from the coast, was internationally recognized as a Biosphere Reserve under UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Program in 1978 and inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1982. Covering 1,275 square miles plus a small buffer zone, the park adjoins another 280 square mile wildlife reserve.

The park is one of the last remaining portions of the vast primary forest that once stretched across present day Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and is the largest island of forest remaining in West Africa. Over 150 native species have been identified as unique to the Taï region.

Many species of rare primates and antelopes inhabit Tai National Park, but only 100 elephants remain compared to some 1,800 in 1979. Species taken include elephant for ivory, monkeys and antelopes for food and crocodile and leopard for skins.

The principal problems are poaching, logging, farming and illegal gold-mining. Insufficient funding has lead to inadequate training of conservation personnel, equipment and research.

Encroachment by timber companies, which was previously most severe in the north, has ceased, and forest is regenerating. But gold panners are still in evidence.

As a first step towards their joint conservation efforts, President Gbagbo asked WWF to prepare draft letters to be sent to the heads of state of the Guinean Moist Forest Ecoregion, and appointed a liaison officer to coordinate activities with WWF in this regard.

President Gbagbo assured the delegation that he will discuss the issue further with the President of neighboring Ghana, John Kuffuor, during his upcoming visit to Côte d'Ivoire in later this month.