The central African country of Gabon has appointed British-born zoologist and conservationist, Professor Lee White CBE, as Minister for Environment, Forest and Oceans. He was appointed by Prime Minister Julien Nkoghe Bekale on Monday after serving as the Director of the Gabonese National Parks Agency (ANPN) for ten years where he was responsible for marine wildlife conservation and managing 13 national parks covering an area of three million hectares, stated the Gabonese presidency.
“More than anything, the appointment of a conservationist to the role of Environment Minister is a clear manifestation of the Gabonese government’s determination to tackle climate change and to place the nation’s rich forestry sector on a sustainable footing,” it added.
53-year-old Professor Lee White, who has dual British-Gabonese citizenship, will be responsible for the sustainable development of the country’s forestry and oceans as well as ensuring Gabon meets its self-imposed target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the government said.
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Gabon’s national parks cover 10 percent of the country’s land mass and the country has a 900 km stretch of coastline teeming with wildlife and unique marine species. The country has tightened its grip against poaching and illegal logging after a wood scandal embarrassed the government this year.
The country’s Vice President Pierre Claver Maganga Moussavou and Forestry and Environment Minister Guy Bertrand Mapangou were sacked by President Ali Bongo Ondimba after 392 containers of the illegally logged kevazingo wood which were seized at the port of Owendo in February and March went missing.
Gabonese authorities said last month they had recovered 200 containers. Two Chinese nationals are being held in relation to the case, and last week the head of customs, Dieudonne Lewamouo, was detained, reports Reuters.
Professor White is the new replacement of the sacked forestry and environment minister.
“It is an honour to have been named Minister of Forests, Environment and the Sea by President Bongo Ondimba. Now to work!” he wrote on Twitter.
Professor White is a native of Manchester who was awarded a CBE (the third highest honour of the British Empire) in 2011 for services to conservation in Central Africa. He is also an honorary professor at the University of Stirling.
He has lived in Gabon for 30 years and became a Gabonese citizen in 2008. A year later he was appointed by President Bongo as the national parks agency director employing over 800 staff, including a dedicated national parks armed police force who were under his command.
Professor White is also an adviser to the President of Gabon.