Published: Monday 15 January 2001

The Republic of Congo has decided to expand the Odzala National Park to four times its original size. The park houses the largest number of lowland gorillas and is the second largest tropical forest after the Amazon. The total area of the park would be 1.2 million hectares. At least, 444 of Congo's 626 identified bird species can be found in the Odzala. The largest population of forest elephants and forest buffaloes and the only lions left in central Africa can also be found in the park. "The expansion of Odzala means that a large part of the forest, which was open for logging, will now be protected," said the country's minister of forestry, Henri Djombo. The park's expansion is being seen as a courageous and visionary move on the part of the Congolese government. The park was set up in 1935 and declared a biosphere reserve by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation ( unesco ) in 1977. But, regional conflicts and financial problems have adversely affected the park.

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