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Wet Tropics Africa

Baseline total vascular plant surveys of poorly known and species diverse areas in West-Central Africa with local partners to evaluate conservation priorities using the IUCN 2001 standard.

The great tropical rainforests of Africa are some of the most species-rich natural habitats in the world. Powered by sunlight, heat, and abundant rainfall, these ancient, complex ecosystems teem with life, providing homes to a unique assemblage of plants, animals, and fungi, most of which are found nowhere else on earth. Many of these habitats, and their species, are threatened with destruction before their species are even inventoried. In some areas in Cameroon, 1 in every 10 specimens gathered has proved to be a new species to science. The Wet Tropics of Africa team seeks to work with and build the capacity of national botanists in Guineo-Congolian (W and C) Africa. Our country priorities are those where species diversity is believed to be high but is poorly surveyed, where the national botanical capacity needs building, and which are politically stable. Our fieldwork focus is on conducting collaborative, specimen-based surveys of plants and fungi in protected areas or potentially protected areas. These are usually aimed at producing 'conservation checklists' that document the plant species present and assess their IUCN 2001 global conservation status and include information that allows those which are threatened (Red Data species) to be better identified, monitored and managed. In several cases new National Parks or other protected areas, have been created or are in the course of being developed due to the data supplied in the books resulting from our surveys.

Ultimately our objective is to produce Red Data books with each of our country partners, mapping concentrations of threatened species so that development can be planned without risking global extinction of plant species. We seek to make this information widely available in-country via posters, film, television and radio releases, and to produce guides on national Red Data species for secondary school teachers that explain the need for their protection. Please contact us (WTA@kew.org) if you would like to support this work. Currently we are active in Guinea (Conakry), Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Congo (Kinshasa) and Congo (Brazzaville).

Background

Within the Wet Tropics Africa, Kew’s special area of expertise is the rainforests of western Cameroon, where most of our current research projects and co-operative ventures are based and have been developed. More recently Kew has strengthened its support of botanical and conservation activities elsewhere in the Wet Tropics of Africa, e.g. in Guinea (Conakry), Sierra Leone, Gabon, Central African Republic, Liberia, Ghana, Congo (Kinshasa) and Congo (Brazzaville).

The Cameroon link goes right back to 1861, when Kew’s first director, Sir William Hooker, sent a botanist, Gustav Mann, to explore and collect in the Gulf of Guinea. Since then, the herbarium at Kew has built up an unrivalled reference collection of Cameroon plants – some 60,000 which are now databased – that has provided the source material for conservation assessments, regional floras, botanical accounts, inventories, practical guidebooks and a Red Data book. This wealth of knowledge is now being shared with a new generation of Cameroon biologists keen to continue researching, monitoring, and conserving the extraordinary biodiversity of their rainforest heritage.

Kew’s main partner in Cameroon is the National Herbarium at Yaoundé, with which we have jointly secured project funding that has enabled the training of new staff through workshops, new computer and email access, and essential logistical support. We also have a long association with the Botanic Garden at Limbe, involving not only Kew’s botanists but horticulturists as well, helping redevelop their important nineteenth century gardens and associated herbarium.

We are delighted to acknowledge the help and support of Earthwatch for substantial funding of field trips and for enabling paying volunteers and over 100 African botanists and conservationists from fourteen different countries to join us in training programmes in Cameroon 1993-2004. Additional funding for specific projects has come from the Darwin Initiative (2000-2004 & 2006-2011), BAT (under their partnership with Kew) and the Global Environment Facility.

Increasingly, since 2005 much of our field surveys, capacity building, and work towards protection on the ground, habitat restoration, sustainable development and public education on conservation has been supported by mining companies, led by Rio Tinto.