Gola Rainforest National Park

Liberia
Date of Submission: 31/01/2023
Criteria: (ix)(x)
Category: Natural
Submitted by:
Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism
State, Province or Region:
Grand Cape Mount and Gbarpolu Counties
Coordinates: N6 55 34.79 W10 45 26.39
Ref.: 6650

Description

On 20 September 2016, the Government of Liberia passed a Bill officially designating 88,000 hectares of Liberia's rainforest as the Gola Forest National Park. It also passed the National Wildlife Conservation and Protected Areas Management Act. This is the result of over six years of work of the conservation partnership between the government of Liberia, the Society for the Conservation of Nature of Liberia and the RSPB. The Gola National Rainforest in northwest is a combination of mixed evergreen and semi-deciduous forests and montane forests.

It fulfills the announcement by the presidents of Sierra Leone and Liberia in 2009 of the creation of a trans-boundary park to protect the precious Gola rainforest. The Gola National Forest covers more than 88,000 hectares straddling the Liberia and Sierra Leone borders, Gola Forest is one of the largest remaining blocks of Upper Guinean Forest of West Africa. It is important biodiversity hotspot; the forest is home to more than 49 mammal species, 327 bird species (the Liberian Greenbul (Phyllastrephus leucolepis) is classified as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List and 43 amphibian species, in addition to more than 200 species of trees. More than 60 globally threatened species including the African Linsaig (Poiana), Western Red Colobus monkey Piliocolobus badius (Endangered), western chimpanzee (Pan Troglodytes verus) Zebra Duiker Cephalophus zebra and Rufous Fishing-owl Scotopella ussheri (both Vulnerable) are found in Gola Forest.  The Gola National Forest Park located Latitude: 6° 55' 34.79" N, Longitude: -10° 45' 26.39" W of Tubmanburg City, Liberia. Furthermore, the forest is home to the world’s second largest population of the Western chimpanzees, as well as acting as an overall carbon sink and helping to reduce the impacts of climate change.

The recent description by the US Geological Survey (USGS) and the Comité Permanent Inter-états de Lutte contre la Sécheresse dans le Sahel (Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel, or CILSS, a regional intergovernmental body based in Niamey) (CILSS 2016), describes discrete ecological units, consisting of a montane forest, evergreen or mixed evergreen-deciduous forests of the wooded interior plateaus and plains and tropical forests. Of the 899 species of plant that are known to occur in the park, 232 are tree species. The most common family is identified as Leguminosae, with common species such as Cynometra leonensis and Brachystegia leonensis. However, the most dominant tree species is Heritiera utilis (Sterculiaceae) (CILSS 2016).

From a global conservation perspective, the Gola Rainforest is among the most important areas in Africa, with numerous endemic species, many of them globally threatened. The importance of this area is recognized by its inclusion in national and international conservation priority schemes such as: Key Biodiversity Area (KBA), and considered the most important Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) site in Africa.

The Gola National Forest covers more than 350,000 hectares straddling the Liberia and Sierra Leone borders, Gola Forest is one of the largest remaining blocks of Upper Guinean Forest of West Africa. It is important biodiversity hotspot; the forest is home to more than 49 mammal species, 327 bird species and 43 amphibian species, in addition to more than 200 species of trees. More than 60 globally threatened species including the Western Red Colobus monkey Piliocolobus badius (Endangered), Zebra Duiker Cephalophus zebra and Rufous Fishing-owl Scotopella ussheri (both Vulnerable) are found in Gola Forest.

Furthermore, the forest is home to the world’s second largest population of the Western chimpanzees, as well as acting as an overall carbon sink and helping to reduce the impacts of climate change.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Gola Rainforest (project) area is listed as an Important Bird Area and holds a high proportion of the threatened and endemic species of the region and a good representation of Guinea-Congolian forest biome species. Many of these species are also present in the buffer areas of the community forests of the project area. Recent bird recorded 294 species in the project area bringing the total to 327, which is amongst the highest of the Upper Guinean Forests. The birds that occur in the park include flagship species such as White-necked Picathartes, Rufous Fishing-Owl, White-breasted Guinea fowl and Gola Malimbe. Besides the high species diversity, several threatened species occur in good numbers.

The forest is characterized by a composition of natural ecosystems evolving from several ecological and geo- physical processes that have resulted in the creation of many habitat types such as montane gallery forest, secondary thickets, secondary forests, moist evergreen forest, swamp or wetter forests. As a result of the diverse vegetative uniqueness of the site, accommodation is been provided for about 49 species of large mammals of which 9 species are currently considered to be threatened. One species listed as Critically Endangered, four species as endangered and four as Vulnerable. The forest is home to healthy populations of several species of endemic primates including the Upper Guinean Red Colobus, the Western Pied Colobus, and the Diana Monkey. Several species of ungulates that are known to occur in the project zone are endemic to the Upper Guinea forests, such as the elusive Jentink’s Duiker and the smaller Zebra Duiker. The endangered Pygmy hippopotamus occurs in many areas, most notably along the Mano/ Moro River. 

A rapid assessment of small terrestrial mammals in Gola Rainforest National Park identified 26 species of shrews and rodents. Three of these species, Crocidura jouvenetae, Crocidura obscurior and Malacomys cansdalei, are Upper Guinea endemics. Two species, Large-headed Forest Shrew (Crocidura grandiceps) and Buettikofer’s Shrew (C. buettikoferi), are restricted to the Gulf of Guinea and are classified as Near-threatened. The project area is also an important strong hold for bats; 34 species have been identified so far, 2 of which are Vulnerable (Rhinolophus hillorum and Hipposideros marisae

This rainforest has identified a total of 43 amphibian and 13 reptile species in the project zone. Most of the recorded frogs and reptiles were typical forest species that are restricted to the Upper Guinea Forest zone. One third of the encountered amphibians are listed as threatened or near threatened on the IUCN Red List. Genetic analyses identified two specimens of the genus Phrynobatrachus as a cryptic species new to science.

The rivers of the forest largely comprise the tributaries of the Moro, Mano, Mahoi and Moa Rivers within the Moro-Mano, Mahoi and Moa River basins.  The waters of these basins are relatively demineralised, poorly buffered, and hence vulnerable to change. Sampling in the Mahoi and Koye Rivers produced 31 fish species. With 35% of these species being regional endemics confined to the Liberia/Sierra Leone Upper Guinean ecoregion, the distinctiveness of the fish communities is remarkable.

The forest holds an extremely high diversity of butterflies, probably well in excess of 600 species or 80% of all the 750 species known from Liberia/Sierra Leone. One hundred and forty species of dragonflies and damselflies are known to occur in the rainforest, representing 80% of the species found in all of Liberia. Odonate species can be used as indicators of the quality of freshwater ecosystems and forest habitats. This dependency can contribute to raising public awareness of the importance of conserving forests and aquatic habitats. Twenty-two species are considered regionally endemic or threatened, rare and insufficiently known (and thus potentially threatened). Six species found in the project area in 2011 are new to science.

899 species of plant are known to occur in the project area of which 232 are tree species; the most common family is identified as Leguminosae, with common species such as Cynometra leonensis and Brachystegia leonensis. However, the most dominant tree species is Heritiera utilis (Sterculiaceae). IUCN classification for plants is incomplete. Nonetheless, at least 21 threatened species listed by IUCN have been recorded recently including one, Tieghemella heckelii, which is classified as Endangered and 20 classified as Vulnerable (IUCN 2012). Poorter et al. (2004) classified 278 woody plants in the Upper Guinea forests as rare or threatened based on extent of distribution and threats from human exploitation. Of these, 67 have been recorded in the project area.

Criterion (ix): The Gola National Rainforest is a sheer representation of natural phenomenon of ecological and biological processes. The Gola rainforest forests contain high amounts of biomass carbon, which contributes to mediating climate change processes and maintaining biodiversity at the global scale. This forest play an important role in the global climate balance, by emitting or sequestering significant amounts of carbon dioxide, due to the current  condition and degree of deforestation or degradation.. The Gola rainforest presently contains a mean aboveground biomass carbon content of 160 tons per hectare, increasing to 300 tons per hectare in more intact areas. The hotspot contains many other ecological features that render it globally unique. A variety of services are provided by the ecosystems found within the hotspot. These services include those that are important at a global scale, such as climate mitigation through carbon storage and sequestration, as well as those benefitting the local communities, such as those providing essential products to sustain livelihoods, such as food, fuel and building materials

Criterion (x): Liberia’s Upper Guinea forests are exceptionally diverse, with very high rates of endemism. The Gola National Forest, situated in north-west Liberia, is one of the largest remaining intact areas of seasonal dense moist evergreen and semi-deciduous forest in the whole region. The Gola Rainforest National Park present a combination of geographical, climatic conditions and biogeographical characteristic which provide horizon of habitats with numerous niches that enables it to provide shelter to diversity of fauna and flora.

The forest area supports many globally threatened mammals, including Forest Elephant, Pygmy Hippopotamus, Jentink’s Duiker, Zebra Duiker, Liberian Mongoose, Diana Monkey, Sooty Mangabey, Western Red Colobus and Western Chimpanzee. Several birds such as White-Necked Picathartes and White-Breasted Guineafowl, as well as the globally endangered Gola Malimbe. The latter is unique to Liberia and the three neighboring countries and its numbers have dwindled to estimated 6,000–15,000 individuals.  The Gola area is thus critical to its survival.  

The forest landscape, also called the Gola Peace Trans boundary Park, includes the Gola Rainforest National Park in Sierra Leone and the Gola Rainforest National Park in Liberia. Together, the forests extend over more than 350,000 hectares and represent one of the largest remaining blocks of the Upper Guinea Forest. Considered a hotspot for biodiversity, these common forests are home to more than 899 vascular plants, 49 mammals, 327 species of birds and 43 amphibians. Unfortunately, many of these species of fauna and plants are threatened or critically endangered, including the forest elephant, chimpanzee verus, bay colobus, dwarf hippo and rosewood. The diverse ecosystems of the area give rise to an exceptional and unique landscape that provides shelter to an array of fauna species with strong endemism. 

A rapid assessment of small terrestrial mammals in Gola Rainforest National Park identified 26 species of shrews and rodents. Three of these species, Crocidura jouvenetae, Crocidura obscurior and Malacomys cansdalei, are Upper Guinea endemics. Two species, Large-headed Forest Shrew (Crocidura grandiceps) and Buettikofer’s Shrew (C. buettikoferi), are restricted to the Gulf of Guinea and are classified as Near-threatened. The forest area is also an important strong hold for bats; 34 species have been identified so far, 2 of which are Vulnerable (Rhinolophus hillorum and Hipposideros marisae. The rivers of the forest largely comprise the tributaries of the Moro, Mano, Mahoi and Moa Rivers within the Moro-Mano, Mahoi and Moa River basins. 

The site covers an area of 106,990 ha. Situated in north-west Liberia (linking to Sierra Leone), it is one of the largest remaining intact areas of seasonal dense moist evergreen and semi-deciduous forest in the whole region.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The Gola Rainforest National Park covers more than 350,000 hectares straddling the Liberia and Sierra Leone borders, Gola Forest is the largest remaining block of Upper Guinean Forest. The rainforest area is listed as an Important Bird Area and holds a high proportion of the threatened and endemic species of the region and a good representation of Guinea-Congolian forest biome species. Many of these species are also present in the community forests of the project area. Recent bird recorded 294 species in the project area bringing the total to 327, which is amongst the highest of the Upper Guinean Forests. The birds that occur in the park include flagship species such as White-necked Picathartes, Rufous Fishing-Owl, White-breasted Guinea fowl and Gola Malimbe. Besides the high species diversity, several threatened species occur in good numbers.

This rainforest has identified a total of 43 amphibian and 13 reptile species in the project zone. Most of the recorded frogs and reptiles were typical forest species that are restricted to the Upper Guinea Forest zone. One third of the encountered amphibians are listed as threatened or near threatened on the IUCN Red List. Genetic analyses identified two specimens of the genus Phrynobatrachus as a cryptic species new to science.

A rapid assessment of small terrestrial mammals in Gola Rainforest National Park identified 26 species of shrews and rodents. Three of these species, Crocidura jouvenetae, Crocidura obscurior and Malacomys cansdalei, are Upper Guinea endemics. Two species, Large-headed Forest Shrew (Crocidura grandiceps) and Buettikofer’s Shrew (C. buettikoferi), are restricted to the Gulf of Guinea and are classified as Near-threatened. The forest area is also an important strong hold for bats; 34 species have been identified so far, 2 of which are Vulnerable (Rhinolophus hillorum and Hipposideros marisae. The rivers of the forest largely comprise the tributaries of the Moro, Mano, Mahoi and Moa Rivers within the Moro-Mano, Mahoi and Moa River basins.  The site covers an area of 106,990 ha. Situated in north-west Liberia (linking to Sierra Leone), it is one of the largest remaining intact areas of seasonal dense moist evergreen and semi-deciduous forest in the whole region.

Comparison with other similar properties

The Gola Rainforest National Park can be compared to the Eastern Nimba Nature Reserved (ENNR). The reserve is  characterized by  a composition of natural ecosystems evolving from several ecological and geo- physical processes that have resulted in the creation of many habitat types such as montane gallery forest, secondary thickets, or woody grass land, secondary hill forests, moist evergreen forest, swamp or wetter secondary forests. As a result of the diverse vegetative uniqueness of the site, accommodation is provided for many species of conservation relevance that are  endemic to the Liberian side of  the mountain which are either threatened or  endangered under IUCN status such as the Nimba toad (Nimbaphrynoides occidentalis liberiensis), Nimba otter shrew ( Micropotamogale lamottei) (Endangered), Nimba flycatcher (Malaenornis annaamarulae) (Vulnerable) African Swallow-tail butterfly (Papilio antimachus) and Chimpanzees(Pantroglodytes verus) (Endangered) that are famous for their distinctive tool use repertoire. The Gola Rainforest National Park can also be compare to the Taï National Park in Cote D’ Ivoire. This humid tropical forest has a high level of endemism. Its high floral diversity and the occurrence of several threatened monkey species are of great scientific interest.

Dense evergreen forest with species such as the palm Eremospatha macrocarpa, ebony (Diospyros mannii), Parinari chrysophylla, Chrysophyllum perpulchrum and Chidlowia sanguinea on poorer soils; dense evergreen ("Sassandrian") forest dominated by water-demanding species such as ebony (Diospyros spp.) and Mapania spp.; swamp forest with Gilbertiodendron splendidum; agroecosystems. The Tai National Park is located at the border to Liberia in the south-west of Côte d'Ivoire, about 200 km south of Man and 100 km from the coast. It represents one of the last remnants of the primary tropical forest of Western Africa. Also the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP) - is in southwestern Uganda. The park is part of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and is situated along the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) border next to the Virunga National Park and on the edge of the Albertine Rift. Composed of 321 square kilometres (124 sq mi) of both montane and lowland forest, it is accessible only on foot. BINP is a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization-designated World Heritage Site. Species diversity is a feature of the park. It provides habitat for 120 species of mammals, 348 species of birds, 220 species of butterflies, 27 species of frogs, chameleons, geckos, and many endangered species. Floristically, the park is among the most diverse forests in East Africa, with more than 1,000 flowering plant species, including 163 species of trees and 104 species of ferns.

The northern (low elevation) sector has many species of Guineo-Congolian flora, including two endangered species, the brown mahogany and Brazzeia longipedicellata. In particular, the area shares in the high levels of endemisms of the Albertine Rift.

The park is a sanctuary for colobus monkeyschimpanzees, and many birds such as hornbills and turacos. It is most notable for the 400 Bwindi gorillas, half of the world's population of the endangered mountain gorillas. 14 habituated mountain gorilla groups are open to tourism in four different sectors of Buhoma, Ruhijja, Rushaga and the Nkuringo in the Districts of Kanungu, Kabale and Kisoro respectively all under the management of Uganda Wildlife Authority.

In comparison the Gola Rainforest National Park can also be equated to the Laurel forest, also called laurisilva or laurissilva in Portugal, is a type of subtropical forest found in areas with high humidity and relatively stable, mild temperatures. The forest is characterized by broadleaf tree species with evergreen, glossy and elongated leaves, known as "laurophyll" or "lauroid". Plants from the laurel family (Lauraceae) may or may not be present, depending on the location.