As Gabon’s new forests minister, UK conservationist aims to lead by example

DAKAR (Reuters) – Gabon hopes to lead by example in stamping out illegal logging of the worlds tropical hardwoods, a prominent British conservationist said on Tuesday after being named the central African countrys new forests minister.

FILE PHOTO: Gabon's President Ali Bongo Ondimba addresses a meeting on climate change at the 30th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Heads of State and the Government of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia January 29, 2018. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo

Lee White, who ran the U.S.-based Wildlife Conservation Societys Gabon programme for nearly two decades, was appointed late on Monday after his predecessor was fired over a scandal in which tonnes of illegally felled rare kevazingo wood went missing.

“In forestry weve been going through a bit of a turbulent time,” White – who has dual British-Gabonese citizenship – told Reuters in an interview. “One of the first priorities is to get that straight.”

Gabons President Ali Bongo has cast himself as an environmental crusader, delighting conservation groups by banning raw wood exports, enlarging protected areas and demarcating 13 new national parks since he took power after the death of his father, Omar Bongo, in 2009.

Despite those efforts the country remains a target for the illicit wildlife trade and illegal loggers. Tackling the destruction of forests is seen by environmentalists as crucial in preventing runaway climate change.

White, most recently head of Gabons National Parks Agency, said illegal activity in Gabons forests emitted 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

“We are trying to lead by example. If we dont mitigate the impacts of climate change, its going to result in untold strife, and we dont have that much time,” he said.

The president has promised to punish anyone implicated in the disappearance of a cache of 392 containers of kevazingo, which were seized at the port of Owendo in February and March. “Its been a wake-up call,” White said.

Two Chinese nationals are being held, as is the head of customs, Dieudonne Lewamouo, and authorities have recovered 200 containers.

Although illegal logging is ravaging the forests of West and equatorial Africa, most of it driven by Chinese demand, the regions governments have rarely taken action.

There is high demand in Asia for wood from the kevazingo tree, which can take 500 years to grow Read More

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