African Wildlife Reserves Threatened by War

Democratic Republic of the Congo instability and wars harm Garamba and Kahuzi-Biega National Parks, Okapi Wildlife, Salonga and Virunga National Parks. More than one hundred armed groups are believed to operate in the eastern region of the DRC.

The forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo represent half of the total area of tropical rainforest in Africa.

Virunga National Park Democratic Republic of the Congo
Virunga National Park Democratic Republic of the Congo

The biodiversity of the Congolese forests, which provide shelter for many endemic species such as the bonobo, the mountain gorilla, and the okapi are threatened due to political instability in the region, provoking the displacement of thousands of people, represents a very serious threat to the integrity of the five properties listed below:

Garamba National Park

Kahuzi-Biega National Park

Okapi Wildlife Reserve

Salonga National Park

Virunga National Park

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has ongoing war and violence across the country, particularly in the Ituri, Kasai, and Kivu regions. More than one hundred armed groups, such as the Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces, are believed to operate in the eastern region of the DRC. Despite the presence of more than sixteen thousand UN peacekeepers, these groups continue to terrorize communities and control weakly governed areas. Millions of civilians have been forced to flee the fighting: the United Nations estimates there are currently 4.5 million internally displaced persons in the DRC and more than 800,000 DRC refugees in other nations.

Garamba National Park

Garamba National Park contains the four largest land mammals in the world, the elephant, the rhinoceros, the giraffe, and the hippopotamus. Covering vast grass savannas and woodlands interspersed with gallery forests and marshland depressions.

Garamba National Park is located in the northeastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in the transition zone between the dense tropical forests of the Congo Basin and the Guinea-Sudano savannas.

It contains the last worldwide population of the northern white rhinoceros, endemic subspecies of Congolese giraffe and a mixed population of elephants, combining forest elephants, bush elephants and individuals demonstrating morphological characteristics common to the two elephant subspecies.

Kahuzi-Biega National Park

Straddling the Albertine Rift and the Congo Basin, Kahuzi-Biega National Park is an exceptional habitat for the protection of the rainforest and the eastern lowland gorillas. One of the last groups of eastern lowland gorillas consisting of only some 250 individuals lives in the park at between 2,100 and 2,400 meters above sea level.

The Kahuzi-Biega National Park protects 136 species of mammals, among which the star is the eastern lowland gorilla and thirteen other primates, including threatened species such as the chimpanzee, the colubus bai and cercopiuthic of Hoest and Hamlyn.

Other extremely rare species of the eastern forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are also found, such as the giant forest genet and the aquatic genet. Characteristic mammals of the central African forests also live in the Park, such as the bush elephant, bush buffalo, hylochere and bongo.

The property is protected by the National Park legal status and managed by the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN) however, during times of war and conflict it is increasingly difficult to monitor the park. Because of logistical problems, large areas of the Park were only rarely observed, even never visited by the under-staffed guards, and poaching has since increased.

Okapi Wildlife Reserve

The Okapi Wildlife Reserve occupies about one-fifth of the Ituri forest in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Congo River basin, of which the reserve and forest are a part, is one of the largest drainage systems in Africa.

The reserve contains threatened species of primates and birds and about 5,000 of the estimated 30,000 okapi surviving in the wild. It also has some dramatic scenery, including waterfalls on the Ituri and Epulu rivers. The reserve is inhabited by traditional nomadic pygmy Mbuti and Efe hunters.

The Reserve contains 101 mammal species and 376 species of documented birds. The population of the endemic species of Okapi, a forest giraffe, is estimated at 5,000 individuals. Among the endemic mammals of the forest in the northeast of the DRC identified in the Reserve, are the aquatic genet and the giant genet. The Reserve provides refuge to 17 species of primates (including 13 diurnal and 4 nocturnal), the highest number for an African forest, including 7,500 chimpanzees.

Salonga National Park

Salonga National Park is Africa's largest tropical rainforest reserve and has a fundamental role for climate regulation and the sequestration of carbon. Situated at the heart of the central basin of the Congo River, the park is very isolated and accessible only by water. It is the habitat of many endemic endangered species, such as the dwarf chimpanzee, the Congo peacock, the forest elephant, and the African slender-snouted or false crocodile.

The Park is one of the most extensive in the world and its area is sufficiently important to offer viable habitats to its fauna and flora. Salonga National Park suffered from pressures such as poaching and the removal of vegetation by the local populations. Dispute of the Park boundaries by populations in certain areas; commercial traffic in bushmeat; forestry exploitation by individuals in the southern part; and pollution of the Park waters with toxic products used for illicit fishing.

Among the management problems requiring long-term attention are poaching using traditional methods, and more recently by the military with modern war weapons; pressure and human occupation by the Yaelima in the southern part and by the Kitawalistes in the northern area. Impacts, such as fire, deforestation for the sowing of food crops, logging for heating purposes, honey gathering and the building of pirogues are contriving the park.

Virunga National Park

Virunga National Park is located in the center of the Albertine Rift, of the Great Rift Valley. Virunga National Park covering an area of 790,000 hectors comprises an outstanding diversity of habitats, ranging from swamps and steppes to the snowfields of Rwenzori at an altitude of over 5,000 meters, and from lava plains to the savannahs on the slopes of volcanoes. Mountain gorillas are found in the park, some 20,000 hippopotamuses live in the rivers and birds from Siberia spend the winter there.

Virunga National Park is unique with its active chain of volcanoes and rich diversity of habitats that surpass those of any other African park. Its range contains an amalgamation of steppes, savannas and plains, marshlands, low altitude, and afro-montane forest belts to unique afro-alpine vegetation and permanent glaciers and snow on Monts Rwenzori whose peaks culminate in 5000 meters in height.

The property includes the spectacular massifs of Rwenzori and Virunga Mountains containing the two most active volcanoes of Africa. The wide diversity of habitats produces exceptional biodiversity, notably endemic species and rare and globally threatened species such as the mountain gorilla.

In the southern part of the Park, tectonic activity due to the extension of the earth’s crust in this region has caused the emergence of the Virunga massif, comprising eight volcanoes, seven of which are located, totally or partially, in the Park. Among them, are the two most active volcanoes of Africa – Nyamuragira and nearby Nyiragongo - which between them are responsible for two-fifths of the historic volcanic eruptions on the African continent and which are characterized by the extreme fluidity of the alkaline lava.

The activity of Nyiragongo is of world importance as a witness to volcanism of a lava lake: the bottom of its crater is in fact filled by a lake of quasi-permanent lava that empties periodically with catastrophic consequences for the local communities.

The northern sector of the Park includes about 20% of the massif of Monts Rwenzori the largest glacial region of Africa and the only true alpine mountain chain of the continent. It borders the Rwenzori Mountains National Park of Uganda, inscribed as World Heritage, with which it shares the Pic Marguerite, the third highest summit of Africa 5,109 meters.

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