The Mount Nimba Strict Natural Reserve consists of approximately 13,000 hectares that exist along the border of Liberia, Guinea and Cote D’ Ivorie or Ivory Coast. It was declared a World Heritage Foundation Ecological Site in 1992, based on the potential for iron ore mining, influx of refugees from neighboring conflicts, and the immense diversity of its flora and fauna. The Mount Nimba Strict Natural Area contains a number of different ecological systems, and biodiversity areas, some of which are not fully documented. Mount Nimba is part of the Guinean Backbone, which is approximately 1,000 meters above the surrounding flat glacis.
It forms a barrier lying along the southwestern and northeastern axis of Guinea. The sharp relief and stark topography of the mountains is due to strata of ore containing quartzite, which lend the mountain its many precipitous slopes. Erosion through various weathering processes have caused a relatively large sheet of this quartzite to be exposed, while the softer schists and granitogneisses have slowly been eroded away. The remaining iron rich quartzite layer covers the vast sub-horizontal glacis of the eastern and northern portions of the piedmont, where the soil conditions are extremely poor and sparse.
The Nimba Mountains contain the sources of the rivers Cavally and Ya, and a number of deep, richly forested valleys. There is a great deal of topographical diversity, including rounded hills, rocky peaks, and lush valleys. The whole area, in fact constitutes a vast water reservoir. There are three major types of vegetation found within the Mount Nimba Strict Natural Reserve. The first is high altitude grasslands, which was located near the summit and include such plant types as endemics and woody plants on the slopes, including various species of tree ferns found mainly in the ravine areas.
The second, commonly known as the plain savannah area is characterized by soils of varying hardness, which in turn support numerous herbaceous plant communities. The savannah is broken by a number of forested regions, which grown between 1,000 meters and 1,600 meters above mean sea level. The third type of vegetation found within this area is primary forest, located mainly within the foothills and valleys of the Mount Nimba Strict Natural Reserve. More than 2,000 plant species have been described in the area, and about sixteen are thought to be endemic.
In 1988, the area had been identified as a center of plant diversity under the IUCN-WWF Plant Conservation Program. Average rainfall is between 1,600 and 2,400 millimeters per year, and most of the major rivers in West African have their origins within, or close to the Mount Nimba Strict Natural Reserve. There is considerable variation in the rainfall amounts on different sides of the mountainous area. The majority of the rain falls on the southern side as it travels inland from the Atlantic Ocean. On the northern slopes there is little rainfall, due to the rain-shadow effect of the mountains.
In addition, these leeward slopes are also subject to the Harmattan winds from the Sahara Desert, which give rise the xeric conditions. Temperature changes are fairly extreme, ranging between 24°C and 33°C, and the minimum temperatures can fall below 10°C. Over five hundred new species of fauna have been discovered in the Mount Nimba Reserve, and over two hundred endemic species found there as well. The species diversity is extremely rich, mainly because of the presence of various types of ecosystems created by the presence of grasslands laced with forest.
A number of mammal species are found in the region, including the bushbuck, Maxwell duiker, black duiker, bay duiker, the forest buffalo, bush pig, warthogs, scaly anteaters, pygmy hippopotamus, leopards, lions, and a number of shrew species, chimpanzees, and the African civet. One of the most noteworthy species is the viviparous toad (Nectophrynoides occidentalis). This species occurs in the mountainous grasslands at 1,200 – 1,600 meters, and is one of the very few tailless amphibians in the world that are totally viviparous.
There are a number of rare and endemic bird species, and a number of insects belonging the beetle, grasshoppers, cricket and earwig families. The area also includes a number of reptile species. The mountains in the region might have served as a place of refuge during the cold periods during the recent Ice Ages, although it is believed that the fauna may have also arisen from ancestral forms due to isolation. It should be noted, that little is known about the evolutionary history of the Mount Nimba Strict Nature reserve relative to other African mountainous forests.
There are a number of factors that influenced the placement of the site on the List of World Heritage in Danger. The first is the proposed iron-ore mining concession to an international consortium, and the second is the arrival of a large number of refugees to areas in around the area of the Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve. The mining concession was announced in 1992, and included portions of the World Heritage site. In addition, habitat destruction continues to be a major threat, principally through the slash and burn agriculture practice.
Roads, wells and mineshafts associated with the mining practices in Liberia have been built and workshops and townships have been established in what has been a strict nature reserve. Hundreds of square meters of soil have been removed over large areas and as a result, many streams for miles around are contaminated with heavy metal run-off, particularly from ferruginous rock debris. By 1989 iron ore deposits in the Liberian part of the Mount Nimba had been effectively exhausted. However, other deposits are found in the final 300 meters of the hills and cover an area of approximately 197 hectares within the Guinean portion of Mount Nimba.
There are an estimated 300 million tons of iron ore and an annual production of 12 million tons predicted in the area. Because of the various immediate threats facing the area, as well as its immense biological diversity, it was established as a World Heritage Site in Danger in 1992. Previously however, the surrounding area was established as a strict nature reserve by Order No. 4190 SE/F, in 1943 in Cote D’ Ivoire, and by decree in 1944 in Guinea. In addition, a contiguous nature reserve zone was proposed in the Guinea section.
It was internationally recognized as a Biosphere Reserve under UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Program in 1980. Awareness of the value of the area and a better degree of protection appears to be possible following designation of the reserve as a World Heritage site. In fact, in January 1989, a convention was signed by UNDP, UNESCO and the Government to initiate a two-year project to study the impact of traditional agricultural methods and iron ore extraction on the natural values of the site. The Mount Nimba Strict Natural Reserve is a well spring of biodiversity, and geological features unlike anything else in the world.
Over 500 animal species and 2,000 plants species have been discovered in and around the area of Mount Nimba, and there is still much of the area that needs to be explored and scientifically cataloged. If the mining and potential destruction from refugee influences and traditional farming methods continue to encroach on the area, a number of species specific and unique to the area could be lost. A great first step in preserving the biological diversity of the area was accomplished by the inclusion of the site on the World Heritage Danger list in 1992.
However, there are a number of specific things and practices that can be undertaken to further help in the preservation. One example of how the preservation of this area can be helped is by creating a buffer zone of regulated hunting areas surrounding the Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve. Many of the animal species found within the area have broad ranging territories which most likely extend beyond the boundaries of the site. By creating a zone where hunting and use of the animal resources are regulated, the overall territories of the animals can be somewhat preserved and allowed to flourish.
The second practice that could be encouraged is the development and use of more modernize agricultural practices in the area, other than the “slash and burn” method, which leads to unwanted destruction in the area of native plants and habitat. Finally, the excessive mining in the area of the iron rich quartzite still could be a potential source of preservation difficulties. Finally, the population density of the area, and it’s affect on the natural resources must be more efficiently controlled.
Since the mining and agricultural activities in the area are one of the main sources of livelihood and revenue in the area, alternative practices or other sources of revenue must be explored and put in place before the former can be phase out. One way is to open certain areas to the tourist trade, with a portion of the profits being directly funneled into trust funds and financing for more modernized farming equipment and techniques. On an individual basis, there are a number of ways that the Mount Nimba Strict Natural Reserve can be maintained and allowed to thrive.
For those who live outside the area, financial contributions or sponsorship of the various animal or plant species through such foundations as the World Wildlife Fund or the World Heritage Organization can be a great place to start. Also, if feasible, working or volunteering with the people and various natural areas can be a great way to encourage preservation of the area through teaching and study. In fact, an individual scientist, wanting to further catalogue and study the area can easily become a well seasoned advocate for the preservation of the Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve.
The Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve is a place of astounding diversity and geological resources. Only portions of this area have been fully studied, and the wealth of resources available to the people of the surrounding countries is truly unknown. Based on this, the Mount Nimba Strict Nature Preserve should be preserved. References Cited United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve Retrieved December 9, 2008 from World Heritage in Danger List Website: http://whc. unesco. org/en/list/155/
Protected Areas and World Heritage Programme Guidelines for Protected Management Categories Retrieved December 9, 2008, from Website: http://www. unep-wcmc. org/protected_areas/categories/eng/ex-i. htm United Nations Environmental Program World Heritage Sites – Country Cote d’ Ivoire/Guinea Retrieved December 10, 2008. from Protected Areas Programme Website: http://www. unep-wcmc. org/protectected_areas/data/wh/mtnimba. html World Wildlife Fund, Guinea Montane Forests (AT0114) Retrieved December 9, 2008 from World Wildlife Fund Website: http://www. worldwildlife. org/wildworld/profiles/terrestrial/at/at0114_full. html