Gola Rainforest National Park in Sierra Leone is an extraordinary place. Jon Hall, Phil and Ashley Telfer and Charles Foley spent 6 nights there in April 2017 (https://www.mammalwatching.com/2017/04/15/pygmy-hippo-2017-search-podgy-unicorn/) and succeeded in seeing hammer-headed bats, water chevrotain, royal antelope and most amazingly, pygmy hippo. The 700km2 site is the core of the most intact forest block left in West Africa, with other key mammals including forest elephant, chimps, Liberian mongoose, two pangolins and zebra duiker – not to mention over 330 bird species and 600 butterflies. But its survival – in one of the poorest countries on earth – depends critically on sustained outside financial support. That’s where we come in.
As mammalwatchers almost all of us generate substantial greenhouse gas emissions in the course of pursuing our passion. For me, my flights to wild and wonderful places account for over a third of my entire footprint. I suspect I’m not atypical. But Gola offers us a fantastic opportunity to ease our guilt, while at the same time helping conserve the creatures we care about.
Thanks to a 25-year partnership between the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone, the national government and the UK-based Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, management of the National Park has been substantially improved. In just two years, the Gola REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) Project prevented emissions of 1.2 million tonnes of CO2, and following exhaustive independent auditing Gola REDD has now won accreditation by both the Verified Carbon Standard and the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance – so they can sell those carbon credits on to us (http://www.golarainforest.org/our-work).
It’s easy to do. Simply work out the emissions you need to offset – say, from all your flights this year, or over the past 5 years. There are loads of different web calculators to help – https://www.atmosfair.de/en/home is one of the most rigorous. Then go to the Stand for Trees Gola website (https://standfortrees.org/en/protect-a-forest/gola-rainforest-project-connecting-forests-people), and buy the credits (in tonnes of CO2 equivalent) that you need. Your money will help fund sustainable development for 24,000 people living around the edge of the park, and continue to safeguard one of the most important protected areas on the planet.
And all this is affordable: as a rough guide, offsetting a two-person trip we’ve just taken to Costa Rica will cost us around $110 (or the same as procrastinating for another week when we booked the tickets). We’ve recently offset all our family’s flights for 5 years for $1000. And in my day job I’ve made sure we offset all travel to an international 200-delegate conference I help run in Cambridge – for less than $5000/year.
So next time you book flights for a mammalwatching trip, please offset via Gola: it’s straightforward, it’s great value, and it’ll do you and the pygmy hippos a power of good.