African countries to set up wildlife research body

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African environment ministers pledged on Friday to set up an international research body to study and protect the continent’s wildlife, aiming to reverse the loss of its biodiversity.

Africa is famed for the lions, elephants, rhinos and leopards that attract millions of tourists each year, but its wildlife is threatened by population pressure, poaching and deforestation.

A declaration late on Friday at the end of a week-long conference on biodiversity in Gabon’s capital Libreville said the proposed body would draw on scientists from around Africa.

It would « gather knowledge about biodiversity and its protection … research into the migration routes of key wildlife species and their habitats and areas vulnerable to climate change … regional biodiversity centres. »

They also pledged to improve cooperation across borders.

The United Nations environment programme says Africa houses 1,229 species of mammal, a quarter of all mammals on earth, and about 2,000 bird species, a fifth of the world total.

The Congo basin is the world’s second largest rainforest, after the Amazon.

Since taking power in Gabon after his father died last year, President Ali Ben Bongo has cast himself as a staunch environmentalist, banning raw wood exports, expanding protected zones and creating 13 new national parks. 

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