UNESCO World Heritage Taï National Park: Zoonoses in Times of Pandemics
Through targeted information events, improved conservation measures and a new database, the local population of the Taï National Park World Heritage site was sensitised to the links between environmental degradation and human health.
The aim of #SOSAfricanHeritage is to contribute to preserving independent and sustainable organisational structures at African World Heritage sites and Biosphere Reserves with the participation of civil society as well as to secure spaces dedicated to education for global citizenship, sustainability and cultural diversity.
The Taï National Park is one of the last large remnants of the primary tropical forest in West Africa. Its rich natural flora and endangered mammal species such as the pygmy hippopotamus and 11 species of monkeys are of great scientific interest. The World Heritage site, which is also a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, is located on the border with Liberia in the south-west of Côte d'Ivoire. The southern third is the wettest and most diverse area, especially rich in legumes.
Research carried out in the park has identified certain viruses and diseases such as tuberculosis, anthrax or streptococci in the animal populations of the site. In primates, these viruses and bacteria are a threat to animal populations and a risk factor for the development of zoonoses (infectious diseases that can be naturally transmitted between humans and other vertebrates). In addition, gold-washing, deforestation, and poaching weaken the balance maintained by the parks management.
Restrictions due to the pandemic
A diagnosis of the origin of Covid-19 suggests that it is a biodiversity crisis: An ecological balance keeps the reservoir of millions of pathogens in wild animals at bay. However, the decline in diversity in the plant and animal world has meant that 70 % of newly occurring infections are of zoonotic origin. The Taï Park is a natural barrier to this, but it is not sufficiently recognised by the local population, who continue to apply destructive practices. In addition, the current pandemic has led to a reduction in management activities in the park.
Remedy through knowledge transfer
The aim of the project funded under #SOSAfricanHeritage was to address the risks associated with the decline in biodiversity and to raise awareness among the local population about the danger of zoonoses. To this end, the site management compiled existing research evidence on zoonoses in Taï National Park, and entered it into a database as a first step. Based on the scientific findings, local experts trained 67 monitoring guards, ecological assistants and tourist guides.
In addition, the population was made aware of the possible consequences of critical practices such as poaching, deforestation, the contact with animal cadavers or animal excreta through target group-oriented information materials and events. Pupils were introduced to the topic in a playful way through songs, poems or theatre plays. For example, primary school children enacted a theatre play about a poacher in the Taï forest who supplied the village restaurant owner with bushmeat, thereby infecting an entire family, then a village, a town and even an entire country. The local and national press has reported on the project several times.
On the initiative of the Federal Foreign Office and the Goethe-Institut, an International Relief Fund was set up in summer 2020 to provide rapid support to cultural and educational organisations abroad during the Covid-19 pandemic. With its special support programme #SOSAfricanHeritage, the German Commission for UNESCO is part of the Relief Fund consortium.
- Site: Taï National Park
- Country: Côte d'Ivoire
- Type of Site: UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage (natural heritage)
- Year of inscription Biosphere Reserve: 1977
- Year of inscription World Heritage: 1982