Few places in the world remain where one can experience truly wild lands teeming with wildlife—Gabon is one such place. This country of western equatorial Africa supports vast tracts of unspoiled tropical rainforest brimming with biodiversity. It is heavily forested and home to globally significant populations of great apes and forest elephants. Its forests and waters are also home to hippos, three species of crocodiles, the West African manatee, leopards and at least a dozen species of smaller primates. Offshore, humpback whales winter in Gabon’s waters and leatherback turtles come ashore to nest on Gabon’s beaches.
WCS Gabon is addressing these issues through its transversal and site-based programs across the country and through strategy development, education, law enforcement monitoring, as well as government and industry capacity building.
- In the years between 2002 and 2006, WCS Gabon supported ‘Projet Gibier’ which collected information on bushmeat availability throughout Gabon and resulted in a draft national strategy for bushmeat.
- More recently, with the support of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, WCS Gabon has begun work on strategy development for great ape survival in the priority areas of Lopé-Waka-Ivindo National Parks and a national elephant strategy, both of which include addressing the threat posed by trade to these groups of animals.
- We are working with timber companies and the Ministry of Water and Forests to evaluate and improve their policies and practices with respect to hunting regulations, as well as educating employees about relevant laws. Environmental education programs in communities that border National Parks seek to convey environmental values and make laws clear and accessible to these communities.
- The Marine Turtle Partnership in Gabon, piloted by WCS, continues to work to reduce the trade in sea turtle eggs and meat.
- Both the Ministry of Water and Forests and the National Parks Agency are involved in regular enforcement missions, which WCS Gabon has supported for many years. 2011 is seeing a national rollout of a law enforcement monitoring system (MIST) for the National Parks that will provide, for the first time, comprehensive information about human impacts in and around the Parks. This information will include localization of hunting and trapping pressures inside the parks as well as illuminate important access routes and targeted species.
- WCS Gabon is working with the international NGO Conservation Justice to inform its law enforcement activities and support its judicial capacity building in order to improve the prosecution and follow up of wildlife trade cases.
The species of Gabon are threatened by over-exploitation for bushmeat consumption and international trade in wildlife products and live pets. Hunting is legal but is regulated by laws governing seasons, species and permits for armaments. Nevertheless, violations of all three types of regulations occur and illegally collected wild animals—both dead and alive—are regularly seen for sale in Gabon’s markets. The impact of this illegal trade is becoming more and more evident as populations in the wild decline and species are threatened with extinction.
Bushmeat consumption has a long history in the hunter-gatherer societies of Gabon and it continues to play an important role in rural livelihoods. However, demand is no longer limited to local markets: there is increasing demand for these specialty meat items in urban centers in Gabon and the rest of the world including Paris and New York. Animals are hunted using metal snares and guns; particularly with the nonselective nature of snares, many large animal species are vulnerable. To protect Gabon’s wildlife and ensure that local communities have access to these animals in the future, it’s essential that the trade in illegal bush meat is controlled.
While the extent and nature of international trade in animal parts is unknown, it is clear that the trade exists and is growing. Notable amongst these are the elephant ivory trade, the trade in great ape parts for food and luxury items, and infant great apes for the exotic pet trade. Unfortunately, our understanding of the supply and demand of wildlife products, the capacity to enforce wildlife laws, and the lack of facilities to house confiscated animals in Gabon makes it difficult to take action and protect these species from illegal international trade.
The problems of exploitation for bushmeat consumption and international trade are exacerbated by the scale of forestry in Gabon. Logging concessions—one of Gabon’s principal economic activities—cover approximately 60% of the country’s surface area. Forestry contributes to the exploitation of species as it brings migrant workers into the forest, opens access to previously remote areas and directly impacts the behavior of threatened species (particularly that of elephants). As development of these unspoiled regions continue, strategies for reducing the impact of forestry activities are essential for the protection of Gabon’s wildlife and the future livelihoods of local people.