Beautiful… and very endangered is Mount Nimba. This ancient mountain range is a treasure trove for biologists with hundreds of very rare species – and, unfortunately, this mountain consists of high grade iron ore.
UNESCO World Heritage status
Map of the site
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Mount Nimba is an unusual formation – it resembles a giant, 40 km long rope left lying in the savannah and forest of Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, and Liberia.
The tallest summit is the 1,752 m tall Mont Richard-Molard: the tallest mountain in Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire.
Mount Nimba is formed from Precambrian granite, schists, granito-gneiss, and other rocks, including iron-containing quartzite. Mountains were shaped at the end of Jurassic – end of Eocene and since then have been heavily eroded.
The scenery here is breathtaking – the landscape is adorned with undulating hills, cliffs, and amazing rock formations.
Montane forest and grassland
These highlands are located on the border of tropical forest and West African savannah.
Mountains have very high geological, soil, and climate diversity and as a result here have evolved very diverse biotopes.
Until the height of some 600 m dominating ecosystem is the savannah, not too much different from the surrounding savannah.
At a height of 600 – 1000 m dominating ecosystem is a montane tropical forest. Mount Nimba represents the most valuable forest refuge in Western Africa. Higher, at elevations above 850 m very frequent is mist which hangs over the mountains most time. Thanks to this the montane forest is rich with epiphytes and looks like a fairytale jungle.
Above the height of 1000 m dominates montane grassland – also a nearly unique ecosystem with its own endemic species of plants and animals.
Rare and endemic species
Mount Nimba belongs to the most biodiverse sites in the world. Here in the comparatively small area have been found more than 2,000 species of vascular plants, 317 species of vertebrates, and more than 2,500 invertebrates, many of them new to science. More than 200 species of plants and animals are endemic – found only here.
Diversity of life in Mount Nimba could be illustrated by the following facts:
- Only in the montane grasslands of Mount Nimba lives Nimbaphrynoides occidentalis – a viviparous toad. It has developed the ability to give birth to live toads because of xeric conditions on the mountain. The only other viviparous toad in the world is Nimbaphrynoides liberiensis which also lives here!
- 16 species of plants are found only on this mountain.
- Here are found 101 species of orchids. Orchid Rhipidoglossum paucifolium is found only here.
- During the first research of earthworms (1958) there were found 37 species of earthworms – 31 of these were new to science! Recently, in 2009 were found three more new species.
- On the mountain lives Micropotamogale of Mount Nimba (Micropotamogale lamottei). Just a few times this semi-aquatic shrew has been found outside the mountain.
- New discoveries are made – thus in 2009 there was reported a new species of frog, Arthroleptis.
Very interesting is a group of chimpanzees living in Bossou, near Mount Nimba. These animals have developed the ability to use stones as tools – only West African chimpanzees have developed such skills!
Iron ore against biodiversity?
Parts of Mount Nimba got nature conservation status in 1944, soon after an expedition of French biologists found a huge number of unknown species of plants and animals here.
Soon after, in 1955 here was discovered iron ore. And not just "common" iron ore but one of the best in the world. It has been assessed that in the mountain are 6 billion tons of high-grade iron ore – enough to keep the world industry running for several years.
Since this discovery Mount Nimba has become a "battleground" of environmentalists and industrialists.
Major achievement of environmentalists was the listing of Mount Nimba as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981. The site has an area of 18,000 ha, with 13,000 ha in Guinea and 5,000 ha – in Côte d’Ivoire.
The Liberian part is not included and is heavily depleted by iron mining activities. Iron mining for a while increased the welfare of people in Liberia, but, as the ore depleted, things became much worse. Now Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world, torn by war. Thus – what was the sense to eliminate this unique site?
Unfortunately the situation in Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire is not much better. Guinea has decreased the area of the UNESCO site unilaterally and opened it for iron mining. Côte d’Ivoire has weak or no control over this area and as a result, the nature conservation regime is not enforced.
Due to the Liberian civil war numerous refugees have arrived in Mount Nimba and its vicinities. Nature conservation interests meet with resistance of local people who want to clear the forest for fields.
The unique Mount Nimba is one of the most endangered UNESCO World Heritage sites in the world.
- World Wildlife Fund. The Guinean Montane Forest. Accessed in the 21st April 2013.
- Mark-Oliver Rodel, Joseph Doumbia, Alex T. Johnson & Annika Hillers. A new small Arthroleptis (Amphibia: Anura: Arthroleptidae) from the Liberian part of Mount Nimba, West Africa.
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