Minkebe Forest, Gabon

Geographical location:

Africa/Madagascar > Central Africa > Gabon

Tropical rain forest. Vegetation on riverbank - moist forest of the Western Congo Basin at the edge of Minkebe Reserve. Gabon.
© WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY

Summary

Situated in the northeast corner of Gabon, the Minkebe Forest is considered one the most biologically rich rainforests in Africa. It is home to one of the largest populations of forest elephants in Africa as well as gorillas, chimpanzees, leopards and many other species. While human activity in Minkebe is relatively minimal, logging is on the rise; there are currently two logging concessions in the area. Small-scale gold mining also exists.

WWF’s vision for Minkebe is to protect large tracts of forest area where wildlife can thrive, while working with local communities to manage periphery areas to promote the effective management of natural resources. Work is also being undertaken to link Minkebe to other protected forest areas in southeast Cameroon (Nki, Boumba-Bek and Lobeke), southwest Central Africa Republic (Dzangha-Sangha) and northern Congo (Odzala and Nouabale-Ndoki).

Background

The Minkebe forest block, located in the northeast corner of Gabon, is part of a forest block which spans much of Central Africa and is considered one of the most biologically rich forests in Africa.

It is part of the Northwest Congolian Lowland Forest ecoregion, one of WWF's Global ecoregions. In 1997, the government of Gabon gazetted 1.4 millions of acres of the Minkebe tropical moist forest as a 'gift to the Earth'. Work is currently being undertaken to link Minkebe to other protected forest areas in southeast Cameroon (Nki, Boumba-Bek and Lobeke), southwest CAR (Dzangha-Sangha), and northern Congo (Odzala and Nouabale-Ndoki) to form a 'tetra-national protected forest area'.

The Minkebe forest (30,000km2) is one of the largest roadless areas in the Congo Basin. Difficulty of access has provided natural protection for this forest block. There exists a wide diversity of habitats, from inselberg forest, herbaceous swamps, riverine inundated forest to old secondary, Marantaceae and diverse primary forest. The large size of the undisturbed core of Minkebe Forest makes this area unique in Central Africa, and an undisturbed habitat for many species.

Old secondary forests are favored by elephants, gorillas, small carnivores, squirrels and porcupines. Golden cats, leopards, giant pangolins and large numbers of duikers and bushpigs are found anywhere human disturbance (especially hunting) is minimal or non-existent. Typical primary forest users include mandrill, black colobus and chimpanzee.

Riparian areas provide habitat for a full spectrum of 'waterside specialists', including otter, dwarf crocodile, DeBrazza's guenon, crested mangabey, sitatunga, and chevrotain. Swampy open herbaceous clearings (bais) are favoured by parrots, pythons, sitatunga, bongo, buffalo and elephants. In parts of Minkebe Forest there exist hundreds of these bais.

Minkebe is major stronghold for the forest elephant and may contain its largest population in Africa. 16 species of primate have been recorded in Minkebe, 5 of which are listed in the IUCN Red Book as species of concern: Western Lowland Gorilla, Chimpanzee, Black Colobus, Mandrill and Golden Potto.

Botanically, the Minkebe forest block and adjoining regions are believed to be the most diverse in Africa. New species for Gabon have already been identified from plants collected during surveys in the late 1980s and mid 1990s. The type of inundated forest found in Minkebe identified by the tree Sterculia subviolacea, is not found in other regions of Gabon. Certain species of bird, including the spot-breasted ibis Bostrychia rara and Rachel's Malimbe Malimbus racheliae, are relatively abundant in parts of the project area.

Whilst human activity in Minkebe is currently low, logging is on the increase (with creation of new access roads), and presently there are 2 logging concessions in the area. Small scale goldmining also exists and industrial goldmining could take place in the future.

Although the bushmeat trade in the region is still relatively limited, its impact might increase with increasing demand for game meat in urban centres and the development of commercial hunting in logging areas.

Species with a limited riverine habitat like the African Slender Snout Crocodile, may be endangered because of intensive hunting for its skin in the past. This needs further investigation and the development of a conservation strategy.

Finally, parts of Minkebe Forest are poached by ivory hunters and the project, in close collaboration with the Ministry of Water and Forests, is determined to address this threat.

Objectives

- Protected area in Minkebe region of Gabon gazetted.

- Support among residents, authorities and resource users for the conservation of the region and the creation of a protected area is mobilized.

- Initial management and community conservation schemes are developed.

- Clearly defined use and management zones and guidelines in the Minkebe region are developed.

- Alternative and improved sources of income that correspond with the conservation of Minkebe area are identified and tested.

Solution

WWF's vision for Minkebe is to protect a large core forest area to serve as a reservoir for animal populations and as an area where wildlife can thrive, undisturbed by human activity. The periphery of this core area will be managed with the active involvement and collaboration of the different resource users: logging companies, local communities (including Baka pygmies), and small-scale goldminers.

Because conflicting interests are relatively low in Minkebe, it is an ideal site to explore different options for matching the needs of conservation with the needs of the local population for forest resources. Also, because logging in the area is just beginning, it is a good area to develop constructive collaboration with logging companies, so as to manage and conserve biodiversity in logging concessions and to buffer the core area by well-managed logging concessions.

Finally, Minkebe forest borders Cameroon and Congo, and the project actively works toward transborder management of forest resources. This includes linking Minkebe protected area to neighbouring protected areas in Cameroon and Congo and confronting the problem of transborder ivory poaching.

The project, firmly anchored in the water and forest administration, entertains intensive contacts within this large zone (30,000 km2 covering 2 provinces) so as to maintain and stimulate a participatory process for land-use planning in Minkebe Forest.

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