03 December 2011 – The President of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma, has today officially opened Gola Rainforest National Park which becomes the country’s second national park. 

Located in the south-eastern corner of Sierra Leone, on the border with Liberia, the Gola Rainforest is the largest remnant of Upper Guinean tropical forest in the country. 

This ecosystem is rated by Conservation International as one of the world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots, eighth in the world in terms of plant species diversity. 

The park also hosts a significant population of West African chimpanzees, populations of the extremely rare pygmy hippopotamus and a large variety of rare native and migratory birds. 

The forest, stretching into neighbouring Liberia, was also declared a Transboundary Peace Park in 2009 by President Koroma and President Sirleaf-Johnson of Liberia. 

Today’s ceremony was an open, multi-stakeholder event, attended by the heads of several development agencies, official government figures, school children from the area and community leaders from the seven chiefdoms surrounding the park. 

UNEP has been working to support the new national park in several ways. In August 2011, UNEP and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) held a workshop to train Gola Forest guards and managers on conflict-sensitive conservation techniques. UNEP in collaboration with key partners such as the UN Integrated Peacekeeping office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL) and the World Food Programme (WFP), assisted with the logistics for the opening as part of its wider commitment to the conservation-efforts in Sierra Leone. 

The upgrading of Gola’s status to national park is a highly welcome step forward for Sierra Leone to ensure that the forest will benefit from the highest level of protection. 

The park is managed by a project run in partnership with the government’s Forestry Division, the UK-based Royal Society for the Protection of Bird’s (RSPB) and the Sierra Leonean Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (CSSL) with funding from the European Union, the French Global Environment Fund and Conservation International. 

Sierra Leone’s other national park is Outamba-Kilimi on the northern border with Guinea.