Monday, 12 October 2015

How mapping Mondah's endemic plants helped save the forest

Situated just a few minutes drive from the centre of Libreville, The Arboretum Raponda Walker (or Mondah Forest) is a gem in ANPN's 'Emerald Ark'. A peri-urban park with awe-inspiring trees, well-maintained paths and few large mammals, it lacks the hazards associated with some of the more remote parks, and is an ideal spot for promoting family visits and tourism. ANPN is spearheading some exciting initiatives to capitalize on the forest's unique resources and has big plans for its future, such as canopy walkways and educational school trips. However until recently, it looked as if the Mondah forest would be lost for good. 
As anyone can see if they drive north from Libreville, the pressures of the expanding urban environment are all too apparent. Until 2012, the Mondah forest was in imminent danger; it was being progressively downsized and degraded by illegal plantations, sand quarries and charcoal producers.
ANPN lobbied for a change in it's protection status, and, with the help of scientists, made a convincing case. Botanists at IPHAMETRA, USTM and the National Botanic Garden of Belgium had suspected that the forest harboured a number of endemic plant species, and so they conducted a study to map and evaluate these species. 
They identified 24 plant species endemic to the Libreville peninsula, and by applying the IUCN Red-list criteria, classed six as Critically Endangered and six as Endangered. Having established that this was a botanically unique forest with irreplaceable habitat, they made recommendations to ANPN to incorporate the distribution of the endemic species into plans for the new protected area boundaries. This was done, and in 2012, a decree was signed, creating the new Arboretum Raponda Walker and protecting the maximum number of endemic species populations. 
The whole process has been described in a recent publication in Oryx, and is a rare example of endemic species assessments and Red List criteria being used to influence protected area boundaries.

Walters, G., Ngagnia Ndjabounda, E., Ikabanga, D., Biteau, J.P., Hymas, O., White, L.J.T., Ndong Obiang, A.-M., Ndong Ondo, P., Jeffery, K.J., Lachenaud, O., Stévart, T., 2015. Peri-urban conservation in the Mondah forest of Libreville, Gabon: Red List assessments of endemic plant species, and avoiding protected area downsizing. Oryx 1–12. 

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