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Politician Gets It Right

Good news for Sierra Leone`s birds

The President of Sierra Leone has announced his support for a BirdLife proposal to manage a rainforest that is vitally important for rare birds. The Gola rainforests, in south-eastern Sierra Leone, are the last remaining rainforests in the country and among the most important forests in West Africa for a range of magnificent, threatened birds and other biodiversity.

The RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (BirdLife in Sierra Leone) will embark on a three-year pilot project to explore the feasibility of managing 75,000 hectares of the Gola forests for conservation, in cooperation with local communities and government. In remarks to an RSPB-CSSL delegation in Freetown on 5 July, President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah praised the organisations for contributing to the reconstruction of Sierra Leone. We`re thrilled that Sierra Leone`s President has given this important conservation project his personal support. Importantly, the project will bring real and long-term benefit to local people in the Gola, as well as protecting and rehabilitating their natural resources and unique wildlife for the future. said Dr Dieter Hoffmann, Head of Global Programmes at the RSPB

The Gola forests are home to a number of threatened bird species including Rufous Fishing-owl Scotopelia ussheri and Gola Malimbe Malimbus ballmanni (both classified as Endangered). Perhaps best known though is the enigmatic White-necked Picathartes Picathartes gymnocephalus (Vulnerable), which has intrigued bird-watchers for decades on account of its bizarre appearance and nesting habits. It has a bald yellow head, with two black patches resembling ear-muffs, a white breast and black wings. It scurries over the ground with its long powerful legs, flying only when under severe threat from a predator, and makes a nest of wattled mud under the towering, overhanging rocks that are distinctive of this region. Villagers have traditionally held these rock towers and their guardian birds in awe. Endangered Western chimpanzees, pygmy hippos, forest elephants and small striped antelopes known as zebra duikers are among the other wildlife that lives in the Gola forests. The RSPB and CSSL have long recognised the importance of the Gola forests for birds and other wildlife (including Western Chimpanzees, Pygmy Hippos and Forest Elephants), and began a project to protect them from logging in the late 1980s. However, Sierra Leone`s long and bloody civil war, from the mid-1990s until 2002, frustrated these conservation efforts as well as exacting a terrible human toll. Now the country has moved on from disarmament to national rebuilding and peace. With United Nations peacekeepers in place and judicial proceedings under way to put wartime grievances to rest, the future of the Golas lies in the balance. The time is right to revive efforts to save the extraordinary forest and its wildlife.

4th July 2014