The Hlanzoun freshwater swamp forest is among the final of its sort in Benin and is at risk of disappearing.

  • Poverty is widespread in Benin, particularly in rural areas, with 40 p.c of the inhabitants dwelling under the poverty line.
  • Communities dwelling across the forest “want cash so those that can shoot go and kill animals”.
  • However much more than poaching, extreme logging threatens the forest.

Within the freshwater swamp forest of Hlanzoun in southern Benin, majestic timber hum with chirping birds and playful monkeys.

Consultants at the moment are warning that the delicate atmosphere, one of many final of its sort within the West African nation and solely accessible by canoe, is at risk of disappearing.

The three,000-hectare forest, which takes its identify from the Hlan River, is residence to 241 plant and 160 animal species, together with the uncommon red-bellied monkey, the swamp mongoose and the sitatunga, a swamp-dwelling antelope.

Perched on the prime of an enormous tree is a hornbill – a big hen recognized for its lengthy, downward-curving and colourful beak resembling toucans.

“Hornbills feed on bugs and fruit. They prefer to observe monkeys as a result of they pressure bugs to come back out once they transfer, making it simpler for hornbills to catch them,” explains Vincent Romera, a French ornithologist and photographer.

Together with his binoculars, Romera admires a household of monkeys that leap from tree to tree whereas preserving a transparent distance.

“The animals right here have turn out to be anxious,” he says. He considers utilizing digital camera traps to attempt to {photograph} them, but additionally to rely the forest’s animal inhabitants.

“The numbers are in free fall,” he says.

Typically the forest’s noisy live performance is interrupted by gunfire, he says, in all probability from poachers.

Communities dwelling across the forest “want cash so those that can shoot exit and kill animals,” explains Roger Hounkanrin, an area information.

Regardless of regular financial development in recent times, poverty in Benin is widespread, particularly in rural areas, and 40 p.c of the inhabitants lives under the poverty line, based on the World Financial institution.

Lizards, crocodiles and snakes killed by hunters are offered and purchased on the facet of the street that skirts Hlanzoun Forest. Monkeys are additionally typically offered for meat.

However much more than poaching, extreme logging threatens the forest.

Between 2005 and 2015, Benin’s forest cowl was diminished by greater than 20 p.c, based on the World Financial institution, and the speed of deforestation stays excessive at 2.2 p.c yearly.

Timber are felled for firewood, and the fermented sap of palm timber is used to make an area alcohol, sodabi.

The dangerous observe of burning and burning has additionally turn out to be extra frequent, warns Josea Dossou Bodjrenou, director of Nature Tropicale, a non-governmental group (NGO) engaged on environmental issues in Benin.

Destruction of forest habitat reduces the areas through which animals can thrive, forces them onto farms to search out meals and exposes them to poachers.

“This can be a website that’s at risk of disappearing,” says native agricultural economist Judicael Alladatin.

“It is a poor space and we won’t blame folks for eager to feed themselves,” says Alladatin, calling on the authorities to “create circumstances for various sources of revenue.”

The federal government has not formally acknowledged the Hlanzoun Forest since 2000, regardless of lobbying by a number of NGOs and scientific work on the forest.

Nonetheless, based on the World Financial institution, she has began to see the significance of defending forests normally.

In Hlanzoun, the state should “act rapidly,” Bodjrenou stated, and “assist forest communities to allow them to proceed to make a revenue … however another way” by creating agriculture, commerce and sustainable tourism.