Ghana’s lush rainforests are some of the most beautiful — and rich in biodiversity — in the world. Until recently, nearly 200 species of birds have thrived in the shady understory layer between the canopy and the forest floor.
But within the last 15 years, as logging has increased a whopping 600 percent in the West African nation, the number of birds has been cut in half, according to a recent study from Drexel University.
Illegal logging — which now makes up 80 percent of Ghana’s timber production — is having particularly devastating effects on tropical wildlife in Ghana because it is completely unregulated; illegal loggers have no limits on the number of trees, the species or the size that they cut.
Although many studies have looked at the effects of logging, Drexel’s study marks the first time that the effects of illegal logging on wildlife have been quantified. And the results are “shocking,” according to lead researcher Nicole Arcilla, PhD, a postdoctoral research associate in the Biodiversity, Earth & Environmental Sciences (BEES) Department in Drexel’s College of Arts and Sciences.
Arcilla, who spent nearly two years in Ghana netting and identifying birds as part of her field research, went to West Africa to study the effects of legal logging. What she found was that illegal logging has become so rampant that it could not be ignored.
There are two sources of illegal logging: companies and rogue loggers, Arcilla told Mongabay.
“About one third of illegal timber is taken by logging companies themselves by harvesting more trees than legally allowed, and/or from areas that are supposed to be legally protected, and/or after legal permits have expired,” she explained. “The other two thirds of illegal timber are taken by illegal chainsaw operators who often operate at night in any forest to which they can gain road access, and may be armed and dangerous.”
Deforestation has also created roadways for poachers to enter previously inhospitable areas to collect animals for the bushmeat trade.
As TakePart.com put it, “The biodiversity-rich forests of Ghana should be full of the cries and chirps of dozens of native bird species. Instead, the only sound you hear at night is gunfire.”
While the situation is dire, Arcilla believes it’s not hopeless.
“These problems can be solved,” Arcilla told TakePart.com. “Ghana is a resilient, vibrant country. There are a lot of people in Ghana who will help solve these problems if they are supported by the international community.”
And the international community is already taking notice. The study, which has been covered everywhere from The Telegraph to Audubon.org and Reuter’s “Sustainability” blog, inspired an online petition to protect Ghana’s birds and end illegal logging that now has more than 40,000 signatures. The target: the president of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama.
Arcilla believes that it is up to the government of Ghana to fundamentally reform its logging system.
“Currently, most legal timber in Ghana is exported. The government needs to designate a reasonable proportion of timber for sale to its own people,” she said.
The researchers also recommend that Ghana increase law enforcement and patrols to cut down on forest crime.
More broadly, the international community needs to show West Africa and other tropical countries that, as the last refuges of forest wildlife, their rainforests are more valuable intact than they are destroyed, said Arcilla.
“With the right leadership, planning, support and resources, Ghana could seize this opportunity to take back its last forests from illegal loggers and set an inspiring example for other tropical forest countries in Africa and around the world,” she told Reuters. “In the midst of the current unprecedented anthropogenic extinction crisis, this would be an extraordinary feat — an achievement beyond measure.”
Members of the news media who are interested in speaking with Arcilla, should contact Alex McKechnie at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215.895.2705.