In 2000, the Smithsonian began its biodiversity work in the Gamba Complex of Gabon. The Gabon Biodiversity Program is a partnership between the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Shell Gabon, and other stakeholders including the Government of Gabon. The Gamba Complex has the largest oil development in Gabon, two national parks and high biodiversity which include many species of conservation concern. The program has national and international researchers, managers and technical personal in country and in Washington D.C.
The objectives of the program are to:
The Gabon Biodiversity Program contributes to maintaining the integrity of ecosystem services of the Gamba Complex by generating knowledge and understanding of the area, monitoring key components of the environment, working with the industry to restore habitats, protecting wildlife species, and connecting people to conservation. The program has been on the front lines of integrating conservation needs with development priorities to sustain biodiversity and training the next generation of conservation practitioners. By using the research and the conservation knowledge acquired over the years as part of the program’s efforts, Shell Gabon has been successful in minimizing impact of development and operational activities, preventing soil erosion, finding alternatives to road building, controlling illegal hunting and poaching, and implementing monitoring programs.
Over 100 national and international researchers, conservation, educators, and technical experts have worked in Gabon under the Smithsonian leadership. The program completed a comprehensive assessment of the biodiversity (plants, mammals, birds, amphibian and reptiles, fishes) of the Gamba Complex and numerous scientific studies. The program also established a Biodiversity Conservation and Education Center to hold national collections and serve as the hub for outreach programs. One hundred and thirty-three publications (61 peer-reviewed) and three books have been published, including descriptions of new species. In addition, operational guidelines and best practices have been established for integrating biodiversity conservation into Shell Gabon’s field operations. Forty public education and outreach programs with undergraduate students, local university and schools and the local and regional government have been conducted. Excellent public outreach for the Smithsonian has been achieved through numerous outlets, including a BBC documentary, Smithsonian Network programming, National Geographic programs, as well as many articles in the popular press.
The Gabon Biodiversity Program is now part of the Smithsonian Global Earth Observatory network with the current establishment of a 25 ha forest monitoring plot in Rabi. Other current work includes the evaluation of human-elephant conflicts, assessing and monitoring the impact of roads on wildlife, providing operational recommendation to Shell Gabon for conservation and development, and seeking support for professional training programs on forest biodiversity management and conservation for Gabon.
Map of the Gamba Complex in Gabon.