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Friday, January 29, 1999 Published at 03:54 GMT


World: Africa

Ghana's new perspective on trees

A nature lesson can become an exciting adventure

Mark Doyle reports from the forest canopy in Ghana's remarkable ecological success story

Most African parks and reserves attract foreign tourists. Kakum Park attracts young Ghanaians as well. The reason is a walkway high in the forest canopy.


[ image:  ]
Some 70% of the visitors to Kakum Park are locals. And the walkway is obviously a major attraction. Nature lessons for the local children will never be the same again.

Most of the school children who visit Kakum Park have parents of relatives who live off the land - some, no doubt, contributing to deforestation.

Investing in the future

The authorities hope that this new generation will take more care of the rain forest. And the first step to encouraging this is attracting the children's interest.


Mark Doyle reports on the amazing view from the treetops
Children I spoke to said they like visiting the park, and they like learning:

"If we cut down the trees and destroy the animals in it, there will be no leaves for preparing medicine when we are ill."

There is a growing realisation that protecting forest reserves with physical barriers, or by mounting patrols simply does not work in places where governments are under-resourced.


[ image:  ]
As one of the park keepers told me, the local people have to feel that they own a stake in the parks - and this is where education comes in:

"Last year for instance the Kakum Park generated about $50,000 income. This can also help educate people on conservation _ because bringing up wildlife clubs.. and so many other things all need money. Without the walkway we can't help educate the people."

The money matters

But this remarkable structure does require expert and therefore expensive maintenance to keep it safe. The charity Conservation International built the walkway with American aid money.


[ image: Mark Doyle experience the heady heights]
Mark Doyle experience the heady heights
While it is successful at pulling in the visitors, there is a suspicion that many people come here more for the fairground thrill than because of any commitment to conservation.

But my park guide admitted that was no problem at all:

"Absolutely they do, and anyway, even if they don't gain any appreciation of the forest, their money is still used by the park - for the anti-poaching team and for a number of conservation activities."


[ image: The forest life needs to be protected]
The forest life needs to be protected
Timber felling and agriculture have eaten away at most of Ghana's rainforest - but what remains is, by common consent being relatively well managed, and the canopy walkway is playing its part in the strategy to conserve what is left.

The walkway is something of a gimic - but it is a gimic that works. It attracts Ghanaians to the park - thereby raising awareness.

Conservationists say that that is the only way that the forest will be saved in the long run.



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