The Congo Basin’s tropical forests are the second largest in the world after those of the Amazon Basin. It covers 198 million hectares (ha), and span over six countries of Central Africa. The Guineo-Congolese forest ecosystem prevailing in this region is known for high species richness and endemism. Gabon itself harbors approximately 22 million ha of tropical rainforests, renowned for its old growth forest and home to emblematic species such as great apes, mandrills and the few remaining large-tusked forest elephants.
Despite this, more than 200 animal and plant species are considered threatened in Gabon, including 15 mammal and 4 bird species. A network of 13 protected areas was created in 2002 after the famous conservationists Lee White, WCS Gabon's first country director, and Mike Fay, convinced Gabon’s president of the value of protecting national biodiversity. Nowadays, national parks cover 3 million ha, 11% of the country. By comparison, half of Gabon’s forests are allocated to logging or other extractive industry sectors.
Although Gabon’s human population density is genuinely low, it is considered that about 25% of Gabon’s populations live in rural areas and depend on forest goods for sustaining their needs, which include timber and non-timber forest products such as bushmeat.
WCS responds to threats on Gabon’s forest ecosystem by working with stakeholders from the following types of land-uses: protected areas for conservation, extractive areas for exploitation of natural resources and local community areas.
WCS Gabon’s Forest Program aims to conserve species and wild habitat across these forests by specializing on three types of interventions:
Firstly, scientific research allows critical information to be gathered on the level of success of conservation strategies, for instance by estimating the status of wildlife populations or monitoring of elephants and gorilla populations at Langoué Bai. We also use rigourous scientific methods to monitor the actual implementation of these strategies for instance through our Law Enforcement Monitoring project in protected areas.
That information can then be used to guide forest management decisions, and help develop appropriate solutions to the many conservation challenges the country faces. This includes developing and testing innovative techniques to monitor large mammals in the forest such as camera trapping or acoustic monitoring of elephants, or applying top-notch methods to identify and value priority areas for conservation. It can also take the form of technical assistance in implicating local communities in the management of national parks. From our field sites WCS Gabon collaborates with managers of protected areas and logging concessions to implement those solutions.
Finally, our knowledge and experience in developing and implementing solutions to conservation challenges is shared with professionals and academics in order to build national capacity so that these solutions can be rolled-out and applied at a wider scale. WCS has a dedicated training centre, CEDAMM (Complex Educatif Dr. Alphonse Mackanga Missandzou), in the north of the Lopé National Park, to deliver training programs. We collaborate with many training institutions to provide professional and academic training targeted towards conservation professionals and students from Central Africa. CEDAMM contributes to building capacity and raising awareness on environmental issues in Gabon and across the subregion.