Lonely Planet Writer

A rejuvenated African forest has become an important refuge for very rare monkeys

An African forest brought lovingly back to life has become an important shelter for one of the world’s rarest monkeys. Scientists worked painstakingly for twenty years to protect and restore a forest in Benin bringing it back to its former glory. They thinned out invasive species of plants and trees and reintroduced 253 species whose seeds and plantlets they had collected from the remnants of the original forest.

Benin's Drabo Forest - home to the rare red-bellied monkey
Red-bellied monkeys at Drabo Forest in Benin. Image courtesy of Peter Neuenschwander

Now, the rehabilitated forest is home to 600 different species of plant and has become a sanctuary for many animals. Most importantly, it has become a refuge for red-bellied monkeys, an endangered primate found only in Benin and Nigeria. The monkey – whose official name is the white-throated guenon – was once considered extinct due to constant hunting for its beautiful fur. However, it has survived and is now thriving in the restored Drabo Forest in southern Benin.

Red-bellied monkeys in Drabo Forest, Benin
Rare red-bellied monkeys at the sanctuary in Benin. Image courtesy of Peter Neuenschwander

The 14-hectare forest reserve is a model for conservation and how scientists and local people can work together to not only protect, but rebuild their environment.

A research paper describing the two decade process said: “The biodiversity richness of the rehabilitated forests of Drabo now rivals that of natural rainforest remnants of the region. “With 585 plant species or around 20% of the flora of Benin, the Drabo forest has become a sanctuary not only for monkeys but also for rare plants.”

Benin's Drabo Forest is now a sanctuary for the rare red-bellied monkey
The conservation team at the restored Drabo Forest, Benin. Image courtesy of Peter Neuenschwander

The restored forest is easily accessible to visitors and will now become an educational and research centre for the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture. Developing it for ecotourism will also add to Benin’s growing reputation as one of the African continent’s top places for travellers to see wildlife.

The country’s best-known reserve – the Pendjari National Park – is home to elephants, hippo, lions, buffalo and is one of the best places to see animals in the wild in West Africa.