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Congo BioDiversity

Congo BioDiversity: Description

Slide 2 The Republic of Congo is home to one of the richest and most biologically important forest ecosystems on the planet. Around 60% of the country is covered by lowland tropical forests, much of which is made up of large tracts of undisturbed virgin wilderness.

These areas are home to a diverse range of rare and endangered mammals, insects and plants – forest elephants, chimpanzees, western lowland gorillas, leopards and bongo antelope are just some of the species of large mammals which can be found, while the country also boasts old growth forests containing enormous mahoganies and other tree species which are many hundreds of years old, particularly in the forestry concessions in the north of the country.

Slide 3 Map of Protected areas of Congo An estimated 11% of territory is currently under protected area status

Slide 4 WCS has been providing technical assistance to the government of Congo in the management of its national parks, community reserves and buffer zones for the past 15 years. This collaboration began with the launch of the Nouabale-Ndoki Project in 1990, which resulted in the creation of the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in 1993 in the north of the country, and this park was further extended in 2001 when part of a neighboring logging concession known as the Gouloago triangle was annexed to the national park.

The Nouabalé-Ndoki Buffer Zone Project, a collaborative project between WCS, the Government of Congo, the timber company CIB (Congolaise Industrielle du Bois) and the local community, was created in 1999 to reduce the negative impacts of logging on the national park.

WCS field staff have been working alongside the government in the Conkouati-Douli national park in the south of the country since 2000, and full-time WCS staff have been working in the Lac Télé Community Reserve since 2003, following a feasibility study conducted between 2000 and 2002. WCS is currently advising the government on the creation of a new national park in the Batéké plateau area in the south west of the country, as well as providing technical advice to staff managing the Odzala-Kokoua National Park.

Slide 5 WCS’ approach to conservation in Congo can be characterized as a ‘landscape approach’. This means that WCS helps the government to conserve biodiversity in the country by establishing and maintaining a network of well-managed protected areas, while also ensuring that there is high-quality habitat between protected areas.

National parks form the centre of this approach, since parks and reserves are the only places where biodiversity conservation is the primary, legally mandated land use.

However, an approach that relies solely on national parks and community forests is not enough, because wildlife, ecological processes, and human resource uses tend to spill over these boundaries into the surrounding landscape. As people around the world continue to expand into wilderness areas, and as we successfully conserve healthy wildlife populations, the needs of people and the needs of wildlife will increasingly clash. This means that we must develop land-use management practices and policies that enable people and wildlife to share the same landscapes.

This approach is also a site-based approach, with WCS technical staff and government counterparts based in field offices at each of the sites where they work.

Slide 6 The longest running WCS/government site is the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in northern Congo. Created in 1993, the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park covers an area of just over 4,000 km2 and is home to important populations of forest elephants, western lowland gorillas, chimpanzees, and many other endangered mammals. It also boasts over 300 bird species and 1,000 plant and tree species. It is located in the Congo sector of the Sangha Trinational Zone, and provides integral protection to wildlife through a collaborative management program between the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Congolese Ministry of Forest Economy and the Environment (MEFE). The NNNP is a rare example of an intact forest wilderness, completely uninhabited by human settlers and with extremely low human population densities in the surrounding area.

Slide 7 (MAP) The National Park is situated in the Sangha department in the north of Congo, in a landscape which has evolved significantly over the past few years as mechanized logging has developed across the region. The national park is now surrounded on all sides by active logging concessions, and this logging activity brings with it an increase in the direct and indirect threats for wildlife in the area. For example, road construction associated with selective logging dramatically increases hunter access to isolated sectors of the forest, and decreases the cost of transporting forest resources such as bushmeat to urban markets, while the large influx of people who come to the region looking for work in the logging company leads to an explosion in the market for that bushmeat.

In response to these changes, conservationists have implemented an adaptive management approach, putting in place structures and personnel to respond quickly and effectively to emergent threats in the landscape. Park activities have particularly focused on developing and implementing effective systems and strategies for protection, research and monitoring and administration, with substantial capacity building programs in all three domains.

Slide 8 The main priority at the Nouabalé-Ndoki project is to ensure that the protected areas and buffer zone are effectively protected from poaching and illegal human activity. These anti-poaching activities are undertaken by a cadre of ecoguards, who operate under the direct supervision of staff from the Ministry of Forestry Economy and the Environment (MFEE), and are divided between law enforcement patrols that are deployed from advanced posts at strategic points within the park borders, as well as mobile patrols which are sent out from the park’s base camps. Data from ecoguard patrols and research teams operating within each protected area is analyzed using a spatially explicit law enforcement monitoring system. This allows us to evaluate the effectiveness of our law enforcement and other programs, and provides a basis for the development and improvement of our interventions in the future. Specifically, data such as patrol effort (number of men and number of patrol days), spatial coverage, illegal human sign, elephant carcasses, seizures and arrests is entered into a database and this can then be analyzed and compared across time and space.

Slide 9 National park staff have also been developing an ecotourism program. Ecotourism development has focused on gorilla viewing at Mbeli Bai, which is a large forest clearing in the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in northern Congo. The clearing is frequented by western gorillas who come to feed on the aquatic vegetation. Bais provide a significant opportunity for tourism, primarily due to the excellent viewing conditions for typically elusive forest mammals, such as gorillas, forest elephants, forest buffalo, sitatunga and otters. A tourist camp has been constructed near the clearing, and dedicated tourism guides and staff have now also been trained in also aspects of visitor and hotel management. At the same time, important contacts were established with several international and national tour operators, and the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park is now part of a transboundary tourism circuit that includes the Dzanga-Sangha Reserve (Central African Republic). These developments mean that 12 groups from four different international tour operators have reserved trips to Nouabalé-Ndoki in 2006, making up a total of more than 150 clients. The simultaneous expansion of national tourism activities, particularly involving employees of local forestry companies, means that the number of visitors to the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in 2006 should pass the 200 mark for the first time.

Slide 10 Staff at the Nouabalé-Ndoki project are also developing initiatives to mitigate human-animal conflict. As human populations continue to expand into wilderness areas, and as we successfully conserve healthy wildlife populations, the needs of people and the needs of wildlife will increasingly clash. In Congo this human-animal conflict has occurred as forest elephants move increasingly closer to villages, frequently entering fields and damaging crops. Faced with this problem, staff at Nouabalé-Ndoki launched an experimental project using chili pepper-based control measures to prevent elephants from entering fields. This approach was pioneered by conservationists in Zimbabwe, and involves a combination of fencing and other barriers, including burning chili-pepper bricks and applying chili powder grease to fencing, to prevent elephants from entering plantations. These measures have been tested each year for the past four years, and it is hoped that in the long term a sustainable solution might be found to solve the human-elephant conflict problem.

Slide 11 WCS and the government of Congo have also pioneered an experimental approach in their work with the private sector. WCS and MFEE management staff realized that the increase in logging activities around the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park meant that it was no longer sufficient to restrict wildlife management activities to within the national park boundaries. In order to guarantee effective protection of wide-ranging species such as forest elephants, conservation activities needed to be extended across the whole landscape, and not just those parts that fell within protected areas. The resulting discussions led to the creation of the Projet Gestion des Ecosystèmes Périphériques au Parc National Nouabalé-Ndoki (Project for the Management of Ecosystems Adjacent to the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park), or PROGEPP, in 1999, a collaborative project between WCS, the Government of Congo, the timber company CIB (Congolaise Industrielle des Bois) and the local community. This project protects critical habitat, minimizes commercial hunting and provides safe passage for wildlife through logging areas. Project staff work to advise the logging company on reducing the negative impacts of logging on wildlife, while simultaneously working with local populations to manage activities such as hunting within the logging concessions.

Slide 12 WCS and the government of Congo are also working together to develop community based management of the Lac Télé Community Reserve. The reserve is situated in the north of Congo, between the Sangha and Oubangui rivers, and covers an area of 4,400km2, making it the second largest protected area in Congo. Lac Télé contains an undisturbed and unique wetland ecosystem containing flooded forest and one of the highest densities of western lowland gorillas in the region. The area is part of a larger Ndoki-Likouala landscape management program supported by WCS which also includes the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park and the surrounding buffer zones of logging concessions. Twenty-seven villages are located in or around the reserve, and around 17,000 people live in and around Lac Télé Community Reserve. The villagers depend heavily on its natural resources for fish, agriculture, construction materials, canoes, and medicines. As the main stakeholders in this conservation effort, they play an important role in managing the natural resources of the reserve.

Slide 13 With such a large number of people living within its borders, there is inevitably a growing demand for bushmeat which is threatening the many wildlife species in Lac Télé Community Reserve, including species such as duikers, which are important sources of protein for local people. Automatic weapons are increasingly available and used for hunting, while unrestricted access to fisheries is reducing densities of fish, many species of which are poorly known. In an attempt to mitigate these problems, WCS and government project staff are helping these villagers develop sustainable resource-use programs. One such program being developed is the establishment of community management of traditional hunting and fishing territories. Local village hunting territories have been mapped by WCS-Congo staff, and local people are now able to restrict hunting in a village territory to people from that village, using these traditional measures to try and ensure the sustainable management of their natural resources in the long term.

Slide 14 WCS is also assisting the government of Congo in the Conkouati-Douli National Park. Created in 1999, Conkouati-Douli is the newest and the second largest of the three national parks in Republic of Congo. Situated in the southwest of Congo, on the Atlantic coast, the National Park is the most ecologically diverse habitat in Congo. The borders of the protected area extend from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, through beach and coastal habitat to the mountainous zones of the Mayombian forest and the Niari savannah. The area is consequently home to an extraordinarily diverse range of fauna, with marine species such as manatees, turtles, dolphins and whales, and many terrestrial threatened species, such as forest elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, mandrills and forest buffalo. As such there is great potential for eco-tourism development. A significant human population is also based in the zone, many of whom rely on these natural resources for their livelihoods. A rich and productive system of estuaries and lagoons, as well as the ocean, supports an important trade in fish and shrimp, while large urban populations nearby provide a market for illegal bushmeat.

Slide 15 The Conkouati-Douli coastline is particularly important for nesting turtles, and researchers in the National Park have been monitoring rare nesting turtles to better understand how to protect eggs and hatchlings. Four species of marine turtle nest on Congo’s Atlantic coastline, with the leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) and olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) turtles the most common; these turtles are facing ever-increasing pressure from the activities of turtle poachers and nest raiders, particularly during the months of December to February, the peak laying period. Although turtle egg collecting and killing of the adults is now illegal, local people have hunted the marine mammals for centuries, with turtles being killed, the meat smoked and then eaten by the villages along the coast. It will take a concerted effort from conservationists and local populations to ensure that the turtles survive.

Slide 16 In addition to these management interventions in well-established sites across Congo, WCS and the government of Congo are also carrying out surveys with the goal of creating new protected areas. One such area is the Bateke Plateau forest Savanna in the south west of Congo, adjacent to the Gabonese border. The landscape is dominated by a giant ancient sand dune system, and covered by a mosaic of savannah and dense gallery forest; the area is also home to several species of large mammals which are found nowhere else in the Congo Basin, such as Grimm’s duiker (Sylvicapra grimmia), and the side striped jackal (Canis adustus). WCS-Congo researchers worked with the Government of Congo’s National Center for Inventories and Forest Management to map the area’s biodiversity; survey teams have traversed the proposed national park, collecting data on the presence of all large mammals, as well as indicators of human activities, and this information will be used to advise the government on the feasibility of gazetting the area as a national park. Once the national park has been gazetted, it will form part of a larger transboundary national park that stretches across the Gabonese border.

Slide 17 In addition to the site-based work which has been discussed so far, WCS also implements several different cross-cutting activities which take place across several sites. One such cross-cutting activity is WCS’ work in the area of human-wildlife health, looking particularly at the issues associated with the transmission of diseases from wildlife to humans, and from humans to wildlife. The WCS-Congo veterinary/health team, which is collaboration between WCS’ International and Field Veterinary Programs, conducts systematic surveillance and rapid response missions to great ape and other large mammal carcasses across the landscape. This surveillance network gives WCS a greater chance of predicting and ultimately preventing potential wildlife disease epidemics, and is essential in the fight against diseases such as Ebola in the Odzala-Koukoua National Park and other protected areas of northern Congo. A laboratory at the Bomassa headquarters of the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park allows us to undertake parasitological analysis of great ape populations from Trinational ape field research sites as part of the great ape health baseline monitoring program. The WCS veterinary/health team has also established a monitoring program to try and assess the risks of disease transmission from cattle to wildlife with the aim of improving current disease control and prevention programs. The monitoring project includes an important capacity building element for staff from the Ministry of Agriculture, who are responsible for livestock health. Local representatives are trained in conducting physical examinations of cattle, the detection of lesions and other illnesses, the administration and analysis of tuberculosis tests, sampling and parasitology.

Slide 18 Perhaps the most important cross-cutting program is WCS-Congo’s capacity building program. Maintaining a network of well-managed protected areas means developing the expertise amongst national staff to effectively manage national parks and reserves, and training the next generation of conservationists is a priority for WCS-Congo. This takes place through both on-the-job training and formal training sessions and workshops. The most effective approach to helping local and national wildlife and protected area managers acquire the skills that are necessary to plan strategically and to make effective day-to-day administrative and management decisions is through a long-term mentoring relationship. Local and national conservation staff should be encouraged to take positions where they have both the authority to make decisions for which they are responsible, and most importantly, have the consistent and timely technical and logistical support they need to help them learn the business of conservation. This is backed up by regular training courses on specific subjects. One such course which is conducted annually is the research methodology course conducted at the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park headquarters; these training courses are open to recent graduates of the Institut pour le Développement Rural in Brazzaville who are considering a career in wildlife management and conservation, and covers all elements of research and monitoring methodology, from project design through data collection and analysis, to report-writing and the dissemination of results.

Slide 19 WCS-Congo’s cross-cutting Conservation Education program is undertaken at all protected area sites and local, national levels. This includes the following activities to raise awareness and understanding for conservation in Congo: • Nature Clubs • Protected species education in schools • Films on environment with Congo TV • Radio communications on Conservation • Village meetings and theatre • Awareness raising on all levels

Slide 20 WCS and the GOC have developed initiatives to promote and communicate about biodiversity conservation on local, national, and international levels including: • Congo Forest Exhibit, Bronx Zoo, New York • WCS Congo Website (www.wcs-congo.org) • Congo TV collaboration, journalists, calendars • International media and films

Slide 21 All these conservation activities are implemented by experts from the Wildlife Conservation Society working in partnership with agents from the Congolese Government’s Ministry of Forestry Economy and the Environment, in both the individual project sites, and the country capital Brazzaville. They are supported by many additional donors and partners. All our sites are funded by USAID's Central Africa Program for the Environment (CARPE), the Government of Congo, and WCS under the Congo Basin Forest Partnership initiative (CBFP). The CBFP promotes conservation activities in 11 landscapes across Central Africa by working with a range of government and non government organizations to conserve biodiversity and promote sustainable land use practices. The Central African World Heritage Forestry Initiative is supporting many of the activities implemented at the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park and the Conkouati-Douli National Park, and these sites will eventually be proposed to UNESCO for creation as World Heritage sites. The US Fish & Wildlife Service also supports conservation across several sites in Congo, particularly in areas such as applied research and landscape monitoring. Other supporting organizations include the Fonds Francais pour l'Environnement Mondial, International Tropical Timber Organization, Liz Claiborne Art Ortenberg Foundation, National Geographic Society, Ramsar, the US Embassy Embassy, Columbus Zoo and many other zoological parks in the US.

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