Japan, Switzerland, US back major gorilla sanctuary

5 December 2001, Yokohama, Japan

The governments of Japan, Switzerland and the United States have pledged funding to the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) to create one of the world's largest sanctuaries for lowland gorillas.

The Minkebe/Mengame Transboundary Conservation Reserve will, in the first instance, cover about 130,000 hectares on the border between Cameroon and Gabon, with the potential of being extended to about 1 million hectares. It will protect one of Africa's richest primate habitats and some 16 primate species - including the western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) - from poaching and deforestation. The reserve is also home to one of the most significant populations of elephant in Africa.

While large areas of forest throughout the world are designated as conservation reserves, funds are often lacking for their effective management. Speaking in Yokohama, ITTO's Executive Director, Dr. Manoel Sobral Filho, said that in pledging financial assistance, the governments of Japan, Switzerland and the United Sates had demonstrated a firm commitment to protecting African biodiversity and assisting local people to develop sustainable livelihoods. He also congratulated the governments of Cameroon and Gabon for their leadership in seeking solutions to the linked issues of poverty and habitat destruction in their countries.

The ITTO project (reference number PD 66/01) will support the management and expansion of the Mengame Protected Forest Area on the Cameroon side of the border. Originally, this reserve covered 65,000 hectares but following technical inputs and advice from the Government of Switzerland, Cameroon has agreed to extend this to 130,000 hectares. A project has also been prepared on the Gabonese side of the border covering 850,000 hectares of forest; this project, to be implemented jointly by the Wildlife Department of the Gabon Ministry of Water and Forests and the Worldwide Fund for Nature (Central Africa) will be considered for funding at the next session of the International Tropical Timber Council in May 2002.

Speaking at the recent session of the International Tropical Timber Council, where the funds were pledged, senior Gabonese and Cameroonian officials stressed the importance of ITTO involvement in transboundary conservation reserves because it brought resources for effective management and facilitated international cooperation. They also said that transboundary conservation reserves were particularly important for their potential to restrict the trans-border illegal trade in timber and wildlife and pledged to work together to maintain the reserve.

Meanwhile, ITTO is facilitating consultations between the governments of Cameroon, Gabon and Congo to establish another transboundary conservation reserve. This new reserve would also play a major role in protecting primate and other species.

ITTO is sponsoring transboundary conservation areas covering nearly nine million hectares spanning nine tropical countries in Africa, Asia/Pacific and Latin America and the Caribbean.

For more information contact: Mr Emmanuel Ze Meka, ITTO Secretariat; itto@itto.or.jp