Protecting our heritage
The decision to add these six areas of natural beauty and importance to the World Heritage List followed recommendations from IUCN, the official World Heritage advisory body, which based its findings on a comprehensive evaluation of the natural value of nine different sites.
One new addition to the World Heritage family is Sangha Trinational, a broad network of well-preserved and diverse landscapes spanning national parks in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, and the Republic of Congo. The forests and rivers within this chain of national parks house an incredible variety of species, and boast the largest intact populations of forest elephants and great apes, including the Critically Endangered western lowland gorilla and the Endangered chimpanzee.
“Sangha Trinational is not a fragment but part of a much larger intact environment with good conservation prospects, and harbouring Critically Endangered species,” says Tim Badman, Director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme. “We welcome the fact that this globally significant forest landscape has been recognised by the World Heritage Committee.”
Located in the central part of the Sakha Republic, Russia, Lena Pillars Nature Park is a further addition to the 2012 World Heritage List. This park is known for its spectacular natural rock formations, and despite its extreme climate, with temperatures ranging from lows of -60º C in the winter to highs of +40º C in the summer, a wealth of wildlife thrives there, including the unusual Siberian musk deer.
Perhaps not what one might expect to find in a desert ecosystem, the Lakes of Ounianga, a series of 18 lakes in the heart of the Sahara desert in north-eastern Chad, have also been added to the prestigious list. This addition marks the country’s first ever World Heritage site.
“The Lakes of Ounianga are a jewel of the Sahara, not only of overwhelming natural beauty, but a testimony to the fragile and unique equilibrium of life on earth,” says Youssouph Diedhiou of IUCN’s Protected Areas Programme in Central and Western Africa. “IUCN is delighted that Chad’s first outstanding natural area is joining the prestigious World Heritage list.”
A fascinating addition to the World Heritage List is the Chengjiang Fossil Site, in the Yunann Province of China. The site contains an impressive array of fossils, and provides a unique insight into the evolution of life on Earth.
“The inscription of the Chengjiang Fossil Site on the World Heritage List recognises this iconic site, which provides direct evidence of the origin of animal diversity,” says Tim Badman. “The preservation of this exceptional window on the earliest stages of the evolution of biodiversity on our planet is of great scientific importance for the future.”
Following a persistent campaign by the Indian government, several protected areas across the Western Ghats were given World Heritage status. These sites cover a diverse selection of ecosystems, from mountains to rainforests. The Western Ghats is considered to be a global biodiversity hotspot, and houses a number of flagship species for conservation, including the endemic lion-tailed macaque, the Asian elephant, and the majestic tiger.
Looking to the future
“The Western Ghats and Lena Pillars are certainly regions that hold spectacular natural values, but IUCN’s evaluations considered that more work was needed on these nominations to meet the standards the Convention has set in its Operational Guidelines,” says Tim Badman. “We welcome these sites to the World Heritage List, but note the conservation challenges that they face will need additional monitoring by the World Heritage Committee to ensure that these sites meet the requirements that accompany listing as flagships for global conservation. IUCN is ready to assist the States in that task.”
The marine site of Rock Islands Southern Lagoon, an area of exceptional beauty, was also named as a World Heritage Site, making it Palau’s first. The latest additions to the World Heritage List bring the total number of natural and mixed (natural and cultural) sites to 217.
Read more on this story at IUCN – Six natural wonders declared World Heritage Sites.
Find out more about the World Heritage Convention.
Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author