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Gabonese authorities crack down on illegal timber industry

‘It’s a mafia-like business. We are certain, thanks to prior investigations, that it steals a tremendous amount of wood from the state,’ says David Ingueza

Arjun Neil Alim
Sunday 27 June 2021 18:11 BST
Gabonese authorities crack down on illegal timber industry
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A nature documentary has won acclaim for shedding light on the existential battle to combat timber smuggling in Gabon.

The documentary, produced by TF1 subsidiary Ushuaïa TV, follows the Gabonese authorities in their attempt to crack down on local mafias and big business engaged in illegal logging of forests.

Gabon is one of the most heavily forested countries in the world, with 85 per cent of its landmass covered by trees. The West African state forms part of the Congo basin, known as the earth’s “second lung” after the Amazon.

Timber smuggling, especially of the “red wood” referred to as Rosewood, is the single most lucrative good sold as part of the illegal wildlife trade, itself the fourth biggest illegal trade after humans, weapons and drugs.

It is estimated that a third of the global timber market comes from illicit sources, the trade of which is run by sophisticated criminal gangs. West and Central Africa are responsible for over 85 per cent of the trade, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

David Ingueza, the chief of Gabon’s forestry police, told The Independent that the essential issue is forestry companies that are legally allowed to fell and process timber are cutting down more than their quotas permit and bribing officials to turn a blind eye.

“It’s a mafia-like business. We are certain, thanks to prior investigations, that it steals a tremendous amount of wood from the state”, he is filmed explaining in the video.

Stop the Illegal Wildlife Trade

We are working with conservation charities Space for Giants and Freeland to protect wildlife at risk from poachers due to the conservation funding crisis caused by Covid-19. Help is desperately needed to support wildlife rangers, local communities and law enforcement personnel to prevent wildlife crime. Donate to help Stop the Illegal Wildlife Trade HERE.

The forestry industry is the second largest employer in Gabon, offering jobs and income to rural communities where it is often the only employer. A 2019 investigation by the EIA found that multinational conglomerates operating in Gabon and the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) routinely overharvested timber for export to Europe, North America and East Asia.

The video shows an investigation led by the police and environmental authorities into one international company that harvested and exported timber to both East Asia and the West. It was found to have harvested 13 times its quota of trees in just one year.

It is estimated that a third of the global timber market comes from illicit sources ( )

A further investigation found that trees were felled before maturity and surrounding trees and ecosystems damaged beyond natural repair. The video also suggested that the tracks dug by traffickers into Gabon’s thick forests would allow poachers easier access.

Over 200 animal and plant species are considered threatened in Gabon, including the African Forest Elephant, which across Africa has seen 70 per cent of its population wiped out in the last 15 years, leaving Gabon as a crucial sanctuary for the remaining population.

(The Independent )

Professor Lee White CBE, the British-born conservationist and Gabon’s Minister of the Forests, of the Seas and of the Environment, said in the video that this illegal logging was an existential threat to the West African country.

“We are at war, it's about defending our country, the future security of Gabon, the future of the country. The natural resources of Gabon must be used for the development of the country, not for the development of organised crime, whatever its origin. We are really fighting for the future of our country”.

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