- The government of Gabon has nominated two sites for the prestigious UNESCO list of World Heritage sites. The sites - the ecosystems and relict cultural landscapes of Lopé-Okanda and of the Minkébé Massif - are nominated both for their natural and cultural values. They are now being reviewed.
Twelve new natural sites are nominated for World Heritage status this year, including to landscapes in Gabon, the Whale Valley in the Egyptian desert and Vredefort Dome, a meteorite impact site in South Africa. The two Gabonese sites are nominated for their cultural and natural value.
The Gabonese government has worked for the inscription of the fauna reserve of Lopé-Okanda into the World Heritage list since 2001. The reserve, located in central Gabon, is famed for its pristine forests, enormous biodiversity and very high level of endemism. It is also recognised as a cultural landscape with religious importance for the sparse human population of the area.
The Minkébé Massif, which also hosts a national park, is located in Gabon's extreme north-east, at the Congolese-Cameroonian border. The park is acknowledged as "a critical site for conservation" by world environmentalist organisation IUCN, which has recommended the Minkébé as a World Heritage site. Minkébé is a widely uninhabited forest region, being the ancient home of the Fang people that later migrated to the coast.
Both sites are part of Gabon's enormous efforts to protect large parts of its pristine forests and thereby gain a larger part of the world's eco-tourism market. An inscription in UNESCO's World Heritage list thus would be a big asset for the promotion of Gabon as a tourist destination.
According to IUCN - which also is the official advisory body to the World Heritage Committee on natural heritage - the environmentalists have now completed their year-long evaluation process of the Lopé-Okanda reserve, the Minkébé Massif park and ten other nominated sites. The evaluation in particular has to establish whether there exists a satisfactory management plan for the nominated site to assure its qualities on a long-term basis.
The World Heritage Committee, comprised of 21 states, will examine IUCN's evaluations at its annual session from 10-17 July in Durban, South Africa, and make the final decision on which of the nominated sites will be inscribed on the World Heritage list. The results of the Durban meeting are to be made public in end-July.
Gabon so far does not have any site inscribed on the World Heritage list, as is the situation for half of Africa's countries. 25 sub-Saharan African countries now host a total of 65 inscribed sites. Ethiopia tops the sub-Saharan list with seven sites, followed by Tanzania and South Africa with six sites each.
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