Significance of sacred sites for riparian forest conservation in Central Benin
Ibu odo, or sacred pools or points in the river, are generally respected by Tchabe communities along the Oueme and Okpara Rivers of Central Benin (West Africa). Ibu odo are governed by rules that may influence conservation practices, including bans on fish poisoning, over-fishing and pollution and discouragement of cattle grazing and cultivation in their vicinity. Riparian forest structure and diversity was examined in three sites adjacent to sacred pools as well as in riparian areas adjacent to various land uses in the region. Diversity in riparian forest tree species was highest in areas adjacent to sacred forests, while tree basal area was larger in areas adjacent to village uses or to sacred lands. The most remote site had the most diverse riparian forest with the largest basal area. Concurrent interviews with elders and hunting chiefs revealed the significant cultural importance of sacred pools and riparian resources. Ibu odo were respected not only by resident populations but also by migrants to the area. Riparian forests were valued for their many ecosystem services including soil fertility and their functions as windbreaks and hunting grounds. Ibu odo should be incorporated into a long-term management strategy for the Oueme River basin that will prevent the destruction of vegetation while conserving riparian forests. This would be crucial to flood control and biodiversity conservation in central Benin.