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Gola Forest

…study confirms biodiversity hotspot

In September 2013, the Research Unit of the European Commission funded “Across the River – a Transboundary Peace Park for Sierra Leone and Liberia” project released its final report on the research conducted from January 2010 to March 2013 in the Gola forest.

This transboundary forest area of approximately 2,000 km² lies within the Upper Guinea Forest Eco-region, the largest remaining tropical rainforest in West Africa and considered to be among the 25 most biodiversity rich hotspots in the world.

While one focus of the research activities was on mapping, biodiversity and threat assessments, another major focus was on capacity building of local staff and partners from both countries, as well as on establishing links and cultivating collaboration between local and international partners and universities.

Several standardised research designs were developed and implemented in the Gola Rainforest National Park in Sierra Leone and the proposed Gola Forest National Park in Liberia, as well as in the corridor areas connecting the two.

The activities comprised, among others, rapid assessments of birds, small mammals and bats, dragon- and damselflies, butterflies, amphibians and reptiles, as well as longer term studies performed over more than one year such as habitat mapping, camera trapping, transect surveys and the collection of threat data (e.g. hunting, artisanal mining and logging).

Besides acquiring important information on the distribution of key landscape species (e.g. chimpanzees, pygmy hippos, forest elephants, different duiker species, white-necked rockfowl, white-breasted guineafowl), their habitat requirements and threats, the research activities revealed the presence of an astonishing 206 bird species, 109 mammal species, including 11 primates, 31 bats, 31 rodents and shrews, and 17 large mammals such as antelopes, leopards and hogs, 451 butterfly species, 145 species of damsel- and dragonflies, 19 reptile, and 35 amphibian species in the studied area. These figures are exclusive those additional species recorded during other and previous surveys and thus the species richness of the Gola forest area is even higher.

Among the recorded species during the Across the River Project research, at least 42 species were first country records for Sierra Leone, while 19 species were recorded in Liberia for the first time. Twelve, possibly 13 species, i.e. three butterflies, eight dragonflies or damselflies, one frog and possibly one shrew, are new to science in the sense that they have not formally named and described yet.

Out of the recorded species, 22 mammals, 14 birds, six dragonflies and damselflies, 13 amphibians, and four reptiles are of ‘global conservation concern’, which is defined as being categorised by IUCN on their Red List as Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered orData Deficient, or are protected under the law by CITES.

The Across the River Biodiversity Report rightfully concludes that the “Overall results from all different surveys show the outstanding biodiversity of the Across the River project area in all studied areas”. In addition to providing an overview of all the data collected during the three years of research, the report also presents a set of valuable recommendations on selection of key corridor areas, strategic management measures and current and future research and monitoring.

Although the Across the River Project has formally ended in September 2013, the project partners have expressed their commitment to continue their cooperation and collaboration in conserving the Gola forest and its rich biodiversity, as initiated under the project.

4th July 2014