Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Into the Gola Rain Forest (July 28)
On a four-hour trek into the Gola, one of the world’s dwindling number of tropical rain forests, Vandi Bobby Kallon, pauses, takes a deep breath, and smiles serenely. “I’m happy if I come each day to the forest. The air is pure.”
We’ve just hiked up a rolling hill overlooking a small grassy plain where buffalo roam. There are signs, but we don’t see the buffalo. Bird life is plentiful, however, and apparently some rare birds live here.
Vandi has walked with expert bird watchers through this forest, which straddles the Liberia/Sierra Leone border. He already knows a great deal about the birds, identifies them correctly and helps us spot them. But we are only on the edge of the forest, and the area has much new growth from after the time logging was stopped in 1986. The interior areas are still natural rainforest. Two intrepid visitors hiked the length of it with Vandi in seven days.
Palmer Finando, who arranged our trip, showed us one unusual sight which were some gravestones left during tribal wars between the Mende chased the Gola people out of this area in the early 1900’s.
The challenge is probably political. In Guatemala, for example, a rainforest has been invaded in some areas by illegal logging, some of it by the military. In Brazil, development and roads are steadily opening new portions of the rain forests to settlements and business. Here, the forest’s timber is still an attraction.
But Sierra Leone has taken important steps to guard its forest from destruction. Several dozen guards patrol the area; and there is a buffer zone of community forests where residents are free to use a sustainable amount of timer and animals. Tourism is bringing in small amounts of money for the local villagers near the forest.
Palmer Finando, a really nice man with a vision for the future of Gola, is the forest department’s tourism director in Kenema, nearest city to the forest. He can be reached at email@example.com or www.golarainforest.org.