Sierra Leone is endowed with two important natural assets, its mineral resources and its flora and fauna. Both can be found in the Kangari Hills. The Kangari Hills Forest Reserve covers 210 sq km and has been protected since 1924 as one of the few relics of the Upper Guinean forest ecosystem in the country. Key protected wildlife species include a remnant population of forest elephants, chimpanzees and other primates, as well as 115 documented bird species (Brncic and others, 2010). The forest is also used as a source of mecidinal herbs and spices.
Landsat images from 1974 and 2013 evidence a remarkable stability of the extent of the forest in the Kangari Hills Forest Reserve. Forest stands out as the large dark green patch in the center of the images surrounded by a fine mosaic of farmland, savanna, and degraded forest. Some clearings are visible within the forest reserve as small brighter patches, but the extent of those has not significantly changed since the 1970s. Agricultural encroachment has taken place mostly from the north, where many villages are located. In contrast, the Tama Forest Reserve, located in the northeast of the images, had totally disappeared by 2013, entirely replaced by cropland and savanna. Logging roads also penetrate the southern part of the Kangari Hills Forest Reserve. The production and trade of charcoal has increased in the past decade and has become so lucrative that it has replaced farming. Unlike firewood, which is usually obtained from farms, wood for charcoal is harvested from forests and woodlands and often targets highly valuable hardwood species.
Illegal artisanal gold mining activities can be found throughout the Kangari Hills. With the British company Cluff Gold, the first industrial-scale gold mining operation began production in 2013 near the village of Baomahun, just to the southwest of the reserve (see inset). Cluff Gold claims to have found 3 million ounces of gold in and around the Kangari Hills. This value exceeds the entire Sierra Leonean economy by a factor of two, with the potential of tax revenues from the export of gold that can be invested into rebuilding the country’s infrastructure (McClanahan, 2012). On the downside, the open pit mine leaves a huge scar on the land. Any form of deforestation diminishes forest resources, reduces wildlife habitat, and exposes the soil to erosion. With a mean annual rainfall of 3,500 mm, flash floods and landslides are common on denuded soil in this area.
With a relatively intact core of dense forest cover, the Kangari Hills Forest Reserve has an enormous potential for biodiversity conservation. Because of the carrying capacity and suitability of the habitat, it is being considered as a release site for rehabilitated captive chimpanzees. The massive demand for revenue from gold will undoubtedly put a lot of pressure on the reserve. The future of the reserve will depend on careful consideration of competing interests and striking a delicate balance between long-term restoration goals and income opportunities