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Winter 2002/2003
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"Save the Congo" Contributions From GIS Users a Huge Help!

Gabon Establishes 13 National Parks

At Esri's International User Conference in July 2001, keynote speaker Dr. Michael Fay made an impassioned plea to the audience to help save the Langoué Bai, a pristine area in Central Africa, from logging activities and preserve the land as a national forest.

During his presentation, Fay explained that by raising $3.6 million (U.S.), land allocated to the logging industry could be returned to the Gabonese government with the stipulation that it be designated and protected as a national park. The money would be used to compensate the concessionaires holding logging rights in the area.

Fourteen months later, at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, Gabon's President El Hadj Omar Bongo announced that 13 new national parks, comprising more than 10,000 square miles or 10 percent of the entire country, would be established to protect this invaluable habitat. Bongo made his decision based on Fay's Megatransect findings as well as other factors. In addition, the United States government pledged $36 million to the Congo Basin Forest Partnership to help preserve forests in the region.

Some of the new parks will be developed for ecotourism as an economic alternative to exploiting Gabon's forests for timber. The commitment of U.S. funding, announced by Secretary of State Colin Powell, will help fund this endeavor.

map of Gabon"By creating these national parks, we will develop a viable alternative to simple exploitation of natural resources that will promote the preservation of our environment," says President Bongo. "Already there is a broad consensus that Gabon has the potential to become a natural Mecca, attracting pilgrims from the four points of the compass in search of the last remaining natural wonders on earth.

"This is a decision of global significance that implies certain sacrifices in the short and medium term in order to achieve our goal of preserving these natural wonders for future generations," President Bongo continues.

"This is one of the most courageous conservation acts in the last 20 years," says Dr. Steven Sanderson, president and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). "President Bongo has set a new standard for wildlife protection in Central Africa--one that we hope other nations will follow."

GIS users contributed to the effort following an enthusiastic and sustained fund-raising campaign. According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, without these contributions it would have been very difficult to get either the U.S. government or Gabon solidly behind its mission. These funds helped spur government officials into action.

The Megatransect

In addition to his association with the WCS, Michael Fay is a conservation fellow at the National Geographic Society (NGS). With sponsorship from the WCS and NGS, he conducted the Megatransect, a 15-month expedition of discovery from September 1999 to December 2000. During his expedition, he hiked more than 2,000 kilometers from the Central African Republic through the Congo and Cameroon before ending his expedition in Gabon, where the Langoué Bai is located.

Yaounde Forest Summit

Prior to the commencement of Fay's expedition, the Yaounde Forest Summit was convened in early 1999. This was the first summit attended by the heads of state of the Central African nations that focused on conservation efforts to better manage the ecologically rich Congo basin forest. Conservation organizations; international financial institutions; and various dignitaries, including His Royal Highness Prince Philip of the United Kingdom, attended the summit. From it came the Yaounde Declaration that was signed in March of 1999 by representatives of the Congo Basin countries, which include Cameroon, Congo Brazzaville, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, and the Central African Republic, committing them to the conservation of large areas of their respective forests.

For more information, visit www.gabonnationalparks.com or the Wildlife Conservation Society at www.wcs.org or www.savethecongo.org.

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