The project area is listed as an Important Bird Area (Fishpool & Evans 2001) and holds a high proportion of the threatened and endemic species of the region and a good representation of Guinea-Congolian forest biome species. Many of these species are also present in the community forests of the project zone (Demey 2011). Recent bird surveys (Klop et al 2010, Demey 2011) recorded 294 species in the project zone bringing the total to 327, which is amongst the highest of the Upper Guinean Forests. The birds that occur in the project zone include flagship species such as White-necked Picathartes, Rufous Fishing-Owl, White-breasted Guinea fowl and Gola Malimbe. Besides the high species diversity, several threatened species occur in good numbers.
An overview of the mammals in the project zone is given by Lindsell et al (2011). 49 species of large mammal are known to occur, of which 9 species are currently considered to be threatened. One species listed as Critically Endangered,four species as Endangered and four as Vulnerable. The forest is home to healthy populations of several species of endemic primates including the Upper Guinean Red Colobus, the Western Pied Colobus (pictured) and the Diana Monkey. Several species of ungulates that are known to occur in the project zone are endemic to the Upper Guinea forests, such as the elusive Jentink’s Duiker and the smaller Zebra Duiker. .
The Critically Endangered Western Chimpanzee is relatively widespread throughout the project zone. The estimated total population of about 200 individuals in the project zone compares favourably to other West African forests and has remained stable in the last decade.
The Endangered Pygmy hippopotamus occurs in a many areas, most notably along the Mano/ Moro River. There is very little information on the ecology of this species so it is hard to make inferences about likely population sizes. For more information about mammals, click here . The national park is also home to three species of pangolin all of which have been listed as Vulnerable due to the increase in pangolin trade from Africa to Asia. These are the white bellied pangolin, long tailed and pangolin and giant pangolin.
The Small Mammals
A rapid assessment of small terrestrial mammals in Gola identified 26 species of shrews and rodents (Anadu 2008). Three of these species, Crocidura jouvenetae, Crocidura obscurior and Malacomys cansdalei, are Upper Guinea endemics. Two species, Large-headed Forest Shrew (Crocidura grandiceps) and Buettikofer’s Shrew (C. buettikoferi), are restricted to the Gulf of Guinea and are classified as Near-threatened (Mondajem 2011).
The project zone is also an important stronghold for bats; 34 species have been identified so far, 2 of which are Vulnerable (Rhinolophus hillorum and Hipposideros marisae) (Weber and Fahr 2009).
The Reptiles and Amphibians
Survey work by Hillers (2009) identified a total of 43 amphibian and 13 reptile species in the project zone. Most of the recorded frogs and reptiles were typical forest species that are restricted to the Upper Guinea Forest zone. One third of the encountered amphibians are listed as threatened or near threatened on the IUCN Red List. Genetic analyses identified two specimens of the genus Phrynobatrachus as a cryptic species new to science. This species probably is endemic to the area and therefore is likely to be threatened based on its small distribution range. The spectacular finding of the Critically Endangered forest Tai toad Amietophrynus taiensis, that so far was thought to be endemic to the Taï National Park in Côte d’Ivoire, furthermore highlights the extremely high potential of the project zone for conservation (Hillers 2009). For more information about Amphibians and Reptiles, click here.
The Freshwater Fish
The rivers of the project zone largely comprise the tributaries of the Moro, Mano, Mahoi and Moa Rivers within the Moro-Mano, Mahoi and Moa River basins. The waters of these basins are relatively demineralised, poorly buffered and hence vulnerable to change. Sampling in the Mahoi and Koye Rivers (Payne 2009) produced 31 fish species. With 35% of these species being regional endemics confined to the Sierra Leone/Liberia Upper Guinean ecoregion, the distinctiveness of the fish communities is remarkable. This further emphasises, in global terms, the distinctive nature of the Upper Guinean region of which the project zone is part. Many of the fish species found are scarcely known to science and must be regarded as data deficient or unevaluated in IUCN conservation terms. Of particular note are the headwater swamps and streams which have distinctive communities of smaller species.
The importance of the project zone in the overall butterfly biodiversity of Sierra Leone can hardly be overestimated. Recent surveys have indicated that the project zone holds an extremely high diversity of butterflies, probably well in excess of 600 species or 80% of all the 750 species known from Sierra Leone. A significant proportion of the rarest and most interesting species in Sierra Leone are almost limited to the project zone, the great majority of which are forest-dependent (Safian 2009), two recently encountered butterflies are new to science (Safian 2011). Because of the incomplete IUCN assessment of invertebrates, the conservation status of many of these species is not clear. An overview of noteworthy species is given by Larsen & Belcastro (2008) and Safian (2011). Four recent descriptions of species new to science are based, at least in part, on material collected in the project zone.
One hundred and forty species of dragonflies and damselflies (Odonata) are known to occur in the project zone (Dijkstra 2011), representing 80% of the species found in all of Sierra Leone. Odonate species can be used as indicators of the quality of freshwater ecosystems and forest habitats (e.g. Catling 2005). This dependency can contribute to raising public awareness of the importance of conserving forests and aquatic habitats. Twenty-two species are considered regionally endemic or threatened, rare and insufficiently known (and thus potentially threatened) (Dijkstra 2011). Six species found in the project zone in 2011 are new to science.
899 species of plant are known to occur in the project zone of which 232 are tree species; the most common family is identified as Leguminosae, with common species such as Cynometra leonensis and Brachystegia leonensis. However, the most dominant tree species is Heritiera utilis (Sterculiaceae) (Klop et al 2008). IUCN classification for plants is incomplete. Nonetheless, at least 21 threatened species listed by IUCN have been recorded recently including one, Tieghemella heckelii, that is classified as Endangered and 20 classified as Vulnerable (IUCN 2012). Poorter et al. (2004) classified 278 woody plants in the Upper Guinea forests as rare or threatened based on extent of distribution and threats from human exploitation. Of these, 67 have been recorded in the project zone.