DAKAR, Aug 12 – Cameroon has backtracked on a decision to allow industrial logging in one of the region’s least exploited rainforests, home to rare gorillas, tool-wielding chimpanzees and giant frogs.
The latest government decree overturns one signed in July that would have permitted timber extraction across 68,385 hectares (264 sq miles), or nearly half, of southwestern Cameroon’s Ebo forest, following an outcry from conservation groups and local communities.
Logging would have destroyed the habitat of a small population of gorillas that may be a new subspecies and threatened chimpanzees known for both cracking nuts and fishing for termites, according to Global Wildlife Conservation.
Without giving a reason for the U-turn, the office of Prime Minister Joseph Ngute said in a statement on Tuesday that he had been instructed by President Paul Biya to reverse the earlier decree allowing logging.
It also said Biya had ordered a delay to plans to reclassify a separate 65,000 hectares of Ebo, a move that could have opened it up to loggers.
Conservationists, researchers and local groups have repeatedly urged the Cameroonian government to suspend plans for the two long-term logging concessions in Ebo, which is also the ancestral home of more than 40 local communities.
On Wednesday, Greenpeace Africa greeted the authorities’ apparent change of heart with cautious relief.
“The government of Cameroon seems to have suspended logging plans,” it said in an emailed statement. “The fate of Ebo forest – the communities dependent on it and the wildlife that live in it – still remains unclear.”
Ebo’s mountain slopes and river valleys also host at least 12 plant species that cannot be found anywhere else on the planet as well as the endangered Goliath Frog, a shy, cat-sized amphibian that builds pools for its tadpoles out of rocks. (Reporting by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Aaron Ross, William Maclean)