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Sierra Leone creates rainforest park

Sierra Leone, one of Africa’s poorest countries, today announced the establishment of Gola Rainforest National Park (GRNP), an area of forest home to chimpanzees, a key population of pygmy hippo, and hundreds of bird species, reports the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

The park covers 71,000 hectares (175,000 acres) in southeastern Sierra Leone near the border with Liberia. Until now the Gola had been a forest reserve, but it suffered from illegal logging and mining during the civil war that raged during the 1990s.

Gola includes an important portion of Upper Guinean forests, an ecozone rated as of the World Wide Fund for Nature’s (WWF) Global 200 critical regions for conservation. Some 327 bird species, 518 butterfly species, and 44 mammal species have been documented in Gola forest. RSPB says Gola contains the “world’s most important” population of pygmy hippo, an endangered species of hippo, as well as 300 chimps.

Tim Stowe, RSPB’s International Director, called the move a “bold and progressive” contribution.

“In a far-sighted act, this developing West African country – which is on the front line of climate change – has decided to help the world by locking up a vast carbon store as well as protecting its unique and globally-important wildlife,” he said in a statement. “We hope that other nations value this contribution and build upon it.”

Sierra Leone hopes it may be able to capitalize on the value of carbon stored in its forests under the REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation) mechanism currently being discusses at climate talks in Durban. Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma in announcing the park expressed optimism that REDD could generate benefits for rural communities while protecting biodiversity and important ecosystem services.

“Carbon financing is a ‘win-win’ for the environment and for economic development,” he said during his inauguration speech.

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