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South Sudan’s tropical forests fast disappearing

 Forest loss along the edge of Mount Dongotomea in South Sudan is visible from Google Earth.
Forest loss along the edge of Mount Dongotomea in South Sudan is visible from Google Earth.

South Sudan’s tropical montane forests are fast disappearing according to new analysis by PRINS Engineering. At current rates, Mount Dongotomea, located in South Sudan’s most biodiverse ecosystem, could be completely stripped of tree cover by 2020.

The forests of the Imatong Mountains, rising to 10,456 feet (3,187 meters), i in southern South Sudan are part of the Eastern Afro-montane ecosystem, rated by scientists as one of Africa’s biodiversity hotspots. Although the afro-montane forests reach only into limited areas of South Sudan, they offer the soon-to-be new country an estimated half of its plant biodiversity. These forests are home to many endemic and possibly unique species, but scientists have yet to study the region’s species.

The Imatong forests have been heavily degraded and deforested, and Mount Dongotomea is now bearing the brunt of clearing that threatens to fragment the ecosystem further. The mountain’s tree cover has been reduced by two-thirds since 1986, and, if deforestation in the area continues, the forests of Mount Dongotomea will also disappear before the end of the decade.

Northeast of Mount Dongotomea, the Didinga hills were largely cleared by 1986, and in 2010 small farmers continued deforesting the eastern side of Mount Dongotomea.

The Imatong Mountains are critical to Africa’s biodiversity, yet also crucial to the economic development of South Sudan. Deforestation in Sudan is mainly driven by the harvesting of woodfuels and other subsistence needs, and people’s survival will be jeopardized further should the region’s forests be cleared and its resources entirely lost.

PRINS relates that the new Minister of Wildlife of Eastern Equatoria state, South Sudan, is interested in local conservation, but needs more funding. In addition, for the government to protect forests and manage natural resources sustainably, detailed maps of land use patterns and botanical habitats will be needed to create a management plan to protect these forest islands.

Map of deforestation in the South Sudan tropical mountain forests. Click to enlarge.

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