Eco-warrior battling to keep Gabon rain forest safe
April 8, 1997
Web posted at: 5:30 a.m. EST
From Correspondent Gary Strieker
IVINDO RIVER, Gabon (CNN) -- If you find yourself up the
river in a canoe with Giuseppe Vassallo, you have no choice
but to listen to his message.
"The forest, you see, it sings! It's a joyful place," he
"A big river, with no people which has damaged it, and it's
still as God made it," he says. "There are, of course,
gorillas, chimpanzees and elephants. (But) they want to
change it, and they are going to destroy it."
Vassallo has made it his mission to save the Mingouli Forest
-- 5,000-square kilometers of primary rain forest along the
Ivindo River in northeastern Gabon.
The Mingouli lies between two spectacular waterfalls that
serve as natural barriers to human penetration. The nearest
roads have never been closer than 50 kilometers away, leaving
the Mingouli uniquely undisturbed.
Until now, that is.
A French logging company has a contract to cut trees in the
Mingouli. Its new logging roads now reach the heart of the
"You can hear the rage of saws upon my friends, the big
trees. They are cutting this paradise," Vassallo says.
All Vassallo wants is to protect the core area of the
Mingouli, allowing the logging company to cut trees in the
rest of its concession.
He says the loggers at one time agreed to develop that kind
of plan, but new access roads show an exploitation that will
destroy the pristine Mingouli.
"Why does he have to log in this wonderful place," he asks?
Vassallo has had little success getting support from Gabon's
government or from international conservation groups.
The area is important to him because of its uniqueness.
"The fact that it was buried to human penetration means it's
also buried to scientists; they don't know the place," he
Vassallo tried to get support from those who do know the
place, the villagers who live closest to the Mingouli.
A local fisherman says his people will oppose any logging
near the river, but it's doubtful the villagers can actually
stop a big logging company with a contract from the
In effect, there now seems little chance the Mingouli Forest
will be protected from logging. Like most of Gabon's rain
forest, it will soon be crisscrossed with logging roads, the
big trees will be cut down and hunters with guns will have
easy access to the deep forest.
But that doesn't mean Vassallo will give up his fight.
He'll keep pressing his arguments, trying to win converts to
his cause. He says he has little choice, for this retired
carpet dealer is also Gabon's honorary consul in Milan. And
it would be hard to replace the Mingouli forest as the focus
of his life.
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