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Ecotourism Spotlight: Ghana on the UNESCO World Heritage map

Ghana, a former British colony on the west side of Africa, is an ecotourist's delight. Its 16 national parks and numerous other green sight-seeing destinations continue to receive increasing international attention. Thus, if two of such ecotourism destinations, submitted to the United Nations in January 2000 for UNESCO World Heritage Site certification, are approved, it would be a significant boon to the Ghanaian ecotourism industry. Approval will, hopefully, infuse the $1.6 bn economy with additional reveue to support necessary national and local development projects and conservation activities. The two ecotourism sites up for UNESCO World Heritage Site recognition are Mole National Park, in the Northern Region, and Kakum National Park & Assin Attandanso Resource Reserve, in the Central Region.

Ecotourism in Mole National Park

Mole National Park is located near the town of Larabanga in the Northern Region of Ghana. Established in 1958 and awarded national park status in 1971, Mole National Park envelops a 4,840 km2 tract of savanna and is the largest and most prestigious protected area in Ghana.

A few hundred years ago, however, this ecotourism destination was a slave trade route and a common passageway for caravans en route from Salaga, in the Northern Region, to the Malian coast. The park is surrounded by the skeletal remains of old villages that were raided and destroyed by slave hunters - such as the notorious Samore and Babatu - during the terrible, heartbreaking era of human trafficking to the Americas and Europe.

These days, however, Mole National Park is an ecotourism hotspot known for much more cheerful and productive endeavours, such as the protection of over 93 mammalian species, over 400 species of birds, 33 reptilian species, 9 amphibian species, 5 endemic butterfly species, several insect species, and dozens of tree and grass species. Roaming its open savanna woodland are leopards and lions, hyenas, elephants, buffalo, antelopes, Bohor Reedbuck, Defassa Waterbuck, Red-flanked Duiker, oribi, kob, and hartebeest. The terrain is split by the Konkori escarpment that runs north-south and is interrupted occasionally by waterfalls. The savanna is also decorated with flat-topped hills that roll alongside rivers and streams, flowing with tranquil abandon toward their final destination in the White Volta River.

Eco tourists can spot endangered species such as the Yellow-backed Duiker and the Black and White Colobus monkey roaming the plains. For the more stationery eco tourist, wetland areas provide entertaining spots for bird-watching.

Ecotourism in Kakum National Park

Kakum National Park in the Central Region of Ghana is named after the Kakum River that skirts the park and provides fresh water to 134 towns and villages. The Assin Attandanso Resource Reserve sits adjacent to the park and is bound together with it in Ghana's UNESCO World Heritage Site petition. Kakum National Park first received special protective status as forest reserve in 1925 and, finally, national park status in 1992.

Ecotourists will revel in the 360 km2 of moist evergreen and semi-deciduos rainforest as they hike its trails and sightsee from atop its famous, 40-metre-high canopy walkway. An especially popular ecotourist attraction, the park's trademark canopy walkway stretches 350 metres between seven tree tops and is constructed out of wire rope, aluminium ladders, wooden planks, and safety netting. The intrepid eco traveller will be rewarded with spectacular views of towering trees and birds such as parrots, hornbills, and frazer-eagle owls.

The park and the resource reserve together host over 400 species of butterly, over 200 species of birds, over 40 species of mammals, and hundreds of plant species. Endangered and rare mammals that call this place home include the Diana Monkey, the bongo, and the Yellow-backed Duiker. Ecotourists are privvy to this rich collection of fauna within the stable rainforest climate maintained in the park by its abundant flora and 65-metre-high trees. Ecotourists also have the opportunity to learn about local medicinal plants along the Kuntan trail, or to track forest elephants in the early morning hours, if a hiking adventure should beckon at that moment.

Eco Travel Must-Sees

Mole and Kakum National Parks and the Assin Attandanso Resource Reserve are but two of many eco tourist attractions in Ghana. But, from opposite ends of the country, they beckon you to explore their lands, to contribute to the growth of sustainable economy and environment, and to leave having something to write home about.

Photo credits: Stig Nygaard