The region hosts many highly endangered mammals, including Forest Elephants and Mountain Gorillas. Habitat types range from lush rain forest in the Congo Basin, the world’s second largest tropical forest, to the vast desert landscapes of the Southern Sahara.
Despite huge cultural and environmental diversity in West and Central African countries, there are many shared similarities throughout the region, dating back long in history.
Main threats and challenges
Poaching, as in many parts of Africa, is increasingly affecting large mammal species, reaching a sad peak with the slaughter of over 300 elephants in one area of Cameroon in early 2012. However, due to lack of proper monitoring, data availability for many species is poor.
The integrity of some of the region’s most precious habitats is threatened by the incursion of extractive industries, including oil and gas, as well as mining, which is becoming a major threat even in World Heritage sites such as Virunga National Park (Democratic Republic of Congo) and Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve (Côte d’Ivoire/Guinea).
Other sources of habitat destruction, such as large-scale industrial logging in Central Africa’s rainforests, drives many wildlife species to the brink of extinction. Some tropical forest regions, for example in Guinea, Nigeria and Niger, are considered critically threatened.
Protected areas in the West and Central Africa region
Sustainable financing, capacity building for managers, and solid strategies for involving local communities in natural resource management are challenges that concern many West and Central African protected areas. Reserves in many West African countries tend to be small due to high population densities, with human-wildlife conflict a common problem around reserve borders.
There are also major gaps in protected area systems. Most of the heavily deforested parts of West Africa are under very little protection, as are other areas of high biodiversity value, for example Mount Cameroon and the Western Guinean lowland forests.
Nevertheless, there has also been good news for protected areas in recent years, such as the declaration of thirteen new national parks in Gabon in 2002 to improve protection of the Congo Basin.