The Ebo Forest in Cameroon is one of the last intact forests in central Africa and is a biodiversity hotspot, home to hundreds of rare plants and animal species, including tool-using Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees, western gorillas, forest elephants, red colobus monkeys, and giant goliath frogs. The 600 square miles of mountain slopes and river valleys are covered by thick tree canopies that shelter a fascinating array of species.
This past July, Cameroon Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute signed a decree that turned half of the Ebo Forest into a so-called forest management unit, meaning that the government could begin to sell logging concessions.
However, on August 11, Ngute, at the direction of President Paul Biya, withdrew the decree, suspending any logging plans. President Biya also ordered a delay to reclassify an additional 160,000 acres of the Ebo, which might have opened up even more forest for logging.
Apart from its rich biodiversity, the Ebo Forest is culturally and societally important for the Banen Indigenous people, who consider it to be their sacred ancestral home. The Banen were ousted from the forest in the 1960s but took up settlements just a few miles from its borders. They still rely on the forest for food and medicines. Meanwhile, the proximity of the forest to big cities makes it an easy target for bushmeat poachers.
Both conservation groups and indigenous leaders welcomed the withdrawal of the decree but remain concerned about the future of the Ebo Forest. Conservation groups hope that the international community will seize the opportunity to work with the government of Cameroon to make the Ebo Forest a permanent showcase for long-term conservation in harmony with very challenged communities.
Photo, posted September 17, 2005, courtesy of Salva le Foreste via Flickr.