Washington, DC - Despite extraordinary progress on conservation since the historic Yaoundé Summit in 1999, two thirds of the Congo Basin's forests remain at grave risk and could be lost within 50 years unless more is done to combat illegal logging, poaching, wildlife smuggling and the illicit bushmeat trade, World Wildlife Fund warned today.
The warning came as Central African leaders, joined by President Jacques Chirac of France and diplomats from many countries, including the United States, gather in Congo-Brazzaville February 4-5 for the second Central African Heads of State Summit. While celebrating millions of acres of new protected areas and essential cross-border cooperation against wildlife poaching, delegates should also make new commitments to save the world's second largest tropical rainforest, WWF said.
The richest ecosystems in Africa, the Congo Basin's forests are home to more than half of the continent's animal species - including most of the forest elephants left in Africa and the world's entire population of lowland gorillas. They also provide food, materials and shelter to some 20 million people.
In Brazzaville, WWF expects the leaders will sign Africa's first ever regional conservation treaty and establish trust funds to ensure long term funding for its implementation on the ground. WWF also calls on the international community to significantly contribute to the effort made by the Central African nations through the Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP), a $53 million U.S. Government initiative with almost 30 partners.
"There has never been a time in history when so much attention, money and commitment to conservation has been focused on Central Africa's forests, its indigenous people and the brave park guards who have protected its wildlife," said Dr. Richard Carroll, WWF's Director for Africa and Madagascar. "But leaders need to be eternally vigilant because each year the Congo Basin loses an area larger than my home state of Connecticut, while poaching, smuggling and the illicit bushmeat trade continue to decimate wildlife populations."
Within the seven Central African countries - Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Democratic Republic of Congo - WWF calls for new commitments and bold measures, such as enforcement of efficient border controls, sound management of protected areas, improved governance and participation of civil society and local communities, and responsible forestry.
"The people of Central Africa - from the indigenous groups in the rainforest to the Heads of State - need the full support of the international community to help them protect this globally important natural heritage," Carroll said. "Robust funding must back up strong political decisions.
The first summit - hosted by President Paul Biya of Cameroon and chaired by HRH Prince Philip, President Emeritus of WWF - culminated in the signing of the Yaoundé Declaration, a 12-point action plan. At the second summit, leaders will review progress made on those commitments and will welcome two more Central African nations - Angola and Sao Tome e Principe - to the process.
For further information: Lee Poston, Senior, Communications Manager, World Wildlife Fund, 202-299-6442
NOTES TO EDITORS:
- The Brazzaville Forest Summit takes place February 4-5 in the capital of the Republic of Congo.
- The Congo Basin Forest Partnership was announced by former US Secretary of State Colin Powell in September 2002, together with a four-year USAID grant of US$53 million. The partnership will help conserve 29 protected areas, and promote responsible forestry and community-based conservation in 11 priority landscapes spanning the Congo Basin. The CBFP is currently chaired by France and COMIFAC, the regional institution established to implement these programs.
- 3.7 million acres of forests are lost each year in the Congo Basin, according to various sources.
- B-roll footage is available, please contact Claire Doole, Head of Press, WWF International, tel: +41 22 364 9550, email@example.com