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Conservation expert calls for protection of Africa's forest gardeners

afrol News, 13 October - A United Nations conservation expert has called for the protection of gorillas and elephants to be included in global climate negotiations in Copenhagen in December as a major factor in sustaining healthy African forests, a central element in temperature control.

“I would estimate that the apes and elephants of Africa disperse some 7 billion seeds every day,” UN Ambassador for the Year of the Gorilla Ian Redmond said, noting that it took more than 1,000 times that period for a project backed by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) to plant 7 billion new trees.

UN agencies have repeatedly pointed to the vital role that forests play in the health of Earth, since they absorb carbon dioxide, a key factor in global warming. UNEP reported last month that the project, launched in 2006 in a bid to push governments into reaching agreement in Copenhagen, had exceeded its goal, with China planting 2.6 billion trees, bringing the total to 7.3 billion trees planted in 167 countries.

“The gorillas and elephants of Africa are doing the world a service,” Mr Redmond said following a fact-finding mission across eight African gorilla range states. “The full extent of the role they play in maintaining the health of their forest habitat - a central component of the Earth's climate regulation - is still poorly understood,” he added.

Large mammals, such as elephants and gorillas, are keystone species in their relevant ecosystems. Gorillas act as ‘gardeners’ in the rainforests of the Congo Basin, and protecting them helps prevent loss of flora that are ecologically dependent on them. They are second only to elephants in the number of seeds they disperse. When eating fruit and seeds, the seeds pass through their system and are in this way prepared for germination.

Fifteen years of armed conflicts in the Great Lakes region of Africa, accompanied by illegal exploitation of minerals to finance militias, led to a sharp increase in demand for so-called bush meat. Rapid urbanisation has also accelerated deforestation through charcoal production, and gorillas and elephants have been poached in large numbers.

A dramatic decline in the diversity of vegetation can be observed in parts of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). As gorillas declined and elephants vanished from the montane area, the flora changed into denser, less diverse vegetation, and weed-like plants, formerly held in check by elephants and gorillas, have become much more dominant, suffocating trees and thereby accelerating deforestation.

By building nests, gorillas break off branches and create gaps in the forest canopy, letting light through to the forest floor and enabling smaller plants to grow. Hence the survival of forests requires the protection of the animals in them as well as the trees, the UNEP has noted.

In the long term, deforestation is as much a consequence of over-hunting as of cutting trees for charcoal or timber, UNEP reported.

Supporting existing national action plans to halt deforestation of gorilla habitat is one of the major objectives of Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS) Agreement on the Conservation of Gorilla and their Habitat during the Year of the Gorilla campaign.

UNEP launched the Year, aimed at halting the slide towards extinction of one of humankind’s closest relatives, in January when a troupe of skaters disguised as apes took to the rink at London’s Natural History Museum, highlighting the theme ‘Gorillas on Thin Ice.’

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Rwanda succeeds including citizens in formal financial sector

afrol News - It is called "financial inclusion", and it is a key government policy in Rwanda. The goal is that, by 2020, 90 percent of the population is to have and actively use bank accounts. And in only four years, financial inclusion has doubled in Rwanda.

Famine warning: "South Sudan is imploding"

afrol News - The UN's humanitarian agencies now warn about a devastating famine in Sudan and especially in South Sudan, where the situation is said to be "imploding". Relief officials are appealing to donors to urgently fund life-saving activities in the two countries.
Panic in West Africa after Ebola outbreak in Guinea

afrol News - Fear is spreading all over West Africa after the health ministry in Guinea confirmed the first Ebola outbreak in this part of Africa. According to official numbers, at least 86 are infected and 59 are dead as a result of this very contagious disease.
Ethiopia tightens its already strict anti-gay laws

afrol News - It is already a crime being homosexual in Ethiopia, but parliament is now making sure the anti-gay laws will be applied in practical life. No pardoning of gays will be allowed in future, but activist fear this only is a signal of further repression being prepared.
Ethiopia plans Africa's biggest dam

afrol News / Africa Renewal - Ethiopia's ambitious plan to build a US$ 4.2 billion dam in the Benishangul-Gumuz region, 40 km from its border with Sudan, is expected to provide 6,000 megawatts of electricity, enough for its population plus some excess it can sell to neighbouring countries.

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