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Is it worth to protect mountain misty forest in Abongphen?

In the Bamenda Highlands mountain range at the North West of Cameroon, close to the capital of region Bamenda, is the place where Abongphen forest can be found. It is often referred to as Tubah Upland Forest which is the name of the region. Bamenda Highlands are one of the few remaining locations on the globe, where this type of rare forest can still is. It is one of the richest, but also most endangered biotops on the Earth. Its categorized as a Biodiversity hotspot, a place with high concentration of rare, endangered and almost extinct endemic species. At an altitude between 1500-2300m, where the villages Bambui, Small Babanki (Kedjom-Ketinguh), Big Babanki (Kedjom Keku) and Filge are, you can find a mosaic of fields, pastures and leftovers of the original forest. The forest is supposed to have had about 4000 acres in the past. Now just about tenth of that remains and is disappearing rapidly still.

Decrease of forest coverage is the big issue for the whole mountain range. In the last fifty years alone, the loss of the primal forest in the region is more that 80%. The main reason for this happening is an unsustainable way of farming. The high altitude areas are great for farming for its cooler climate, volcanic soil and in the vicinity of the forest, also good manioc. Local people are well aware of that (as is notable from the name of area, Abongphen meaning hills are better) so they are moving to the hills. When they move there they start by burning a piece of forest to plant corn, beans, wheat or some other crops. By this very intense farming and weathering, the soil is losing its fertility very fast. Usually in a few years the soil is poor and the farmer will move on to using same tactic as before at a new place. Free pastures for cattle is resulting in them eating everything (including the farmers’ crops) and there is little chance for regeneration. This and setting fire to the pastures adds to the already bad situation for the forest. An additional threat is illegal logging.

Even farmers are now noticing the impact of their actions. Water scarcity and temperature rises are becoming very obvious. The area is marked as a “water catchment area” and is protected by law since 1995. Unfortunately no one is respecting those laws.

The quality and amount of water is highly dependant on the vegetation covering the area. The forests are for their manure base slowing the water flow by allowing its infiltration, which leads to an increase of underground water levels. Some trees are capable of drawing the water from a very extreme depth allowing the other plants and organisms to access it. Roots also protect soil from weathering and make streams cleaner. The Misty Forest has one more quite unique feature. Trees, together with epithetic plants, of which they are quite covered, capture the humidity from the surrounding mist, transforming it to water that then goes down into the soil moisturising it. This cunning system of irrigation can substitute up to hundreds of millimetres of rain a year.

Planting of non original species of trees, especially eucalyptus trees is not helping the issue, but making it worse. Eucalyptus is drawing huge amount of deep water which is then missing for other plants, animals and people. Water is not the only thing disappearing. Through the last decade, local people notice big decreases in the numbers of forest animals. Still we were happy to find a group of chimpanzee (Troglodytes Ellioti), which is considered to be most endangered group of primates on the planet. The last remnants of them are only to be found in Nigeria and Cameroon in numbers between 3500-9000.

 The area is also quite important for bird diversity. In around a few hundreds acres, there is more than 100 species of birds of which a high percentage are endemic. Commonly you can see the otherwise very rare, colourful Tauraco bennermani. Diversity and a high level of endemic species we can even find in other realms – reptile, amphibian and insect.

 Let us not forget the unique composition of vegetation. Some of the plants we will not find anywhere else on the planet any more. One of the most endangered is Alchemilla fisher, or the massive tree Newtonia camerunensis. There are also many medicinal plants. One of the most highly demanded is Prunus africana. The bark of this tree is used for curing benign prostatic hyperplasia. It is one of the trees being heavily and illegally logged in an unsustainable way and the population is decreasing rapidly.

The forest also has a great recreational and aesthetic value. Its simply beautiful to be here!

So therefore we have whole lot of reasons to care and try to protect the forest!