Conservation amidst the turmoil of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo
date : 16/07/2002
||CONSERVATION AMIDST THE TURMOIL OF WAR IN THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
Society for Conservation Biology
16th Annual Meeting
The University of Kent at Canterbury
Co-Hosted by Durrell Institute of Conservaiton and Ecology (DICE)
and British Ecological Society
Paper presented by
Dr. Jo Thompson, Director (Lukuru Wildlife Research Project)
and Mr. Michel Hasson (Nouvelles Approches)
16 July 2002
The diverse terrain of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) supports one of the world's most critical assemblages of biodiversity including the African elephant (savanna and forest types), bonobo, Grauer's gorilla, Mountain gorilla, chimpanzee, okapi, northern white rhino, Congo peacock and other rare or endangered fauna and flora, to name a few. Some of these species are found only in DRC. In 1925 DRC lead the continent by designating the first national park of Africa. The DRC also maintains the world's largest tropical rainforest reserve, Salonga National Park. The system of recognized national parks and protected areas are the stronghold for critical species survival and key habitat preservation. Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN : the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation)), created in 1934, is responsible for the management of all seven national parks and 16 protected areas in DRC, covering nearly 8 percent of the surface area of the country. Four of these national parks and one faunal reserve have UNESCO World Heritage Site status, each listed as a site ≥in danger0 due to the current threats that weigh on the land.
Political instability and armed conflict have ravaged the DRC environment since 1994's influx of Rwandan refugee's, 1996's war of liberation, and currently the war of aggression that was declared in August 1998. This crisis continues to result in critical biodiversity loss, habitat plundered for exploitation of natural resources, and wildlife slaughtered for commercial bushmeat and illegal artifact trade.
The DRC has the highest number of elephants on the continent. As such, it is the most decisive range country for African elephant conservation. The 1998 African Elephant Database estimated 20,219 elephants within the DRC prior to the onset of war, their occupied range including all national parks. Equally, as the only territory where all three African great apes occur, DRC is the most decisive range country for ape conservation. 100 percent of the Bonobo population, 93 percent of the Eastern Chimpanzee population, 100 percent of the Grauer's Gorilla population (half of the entire world population are found in the Kahuzi-Biega and Maiko National Parks), and 57 percent of the Mountain Gorilla population occurs in DRC.
Interrupted by insecurity and occupation of protected areas by armed troops, the task for ICCN became impossible. With the outbreak of war, ICCN personnel in many areas were unable to monitor or control their domains, some experiencing a complete breakdown of communications and economic links to urban centers. Regulation of and communication with those regions under the control of occupying forces was suspended. All state revenue, generated from national parks and protected area use, ceased. Most ICCN staff was disarmed and many were forbidden to enter the domain, which they had been charged to protect. Once permitted to return to their posts after the passage of many months, most Parks staff did not have the basic means to do their job nor simplest essential supplies to survive. Yet, faced with the prospects of confronting armed teams of poachers, their dedication never wavered. Teams of heavily armed poachers occupied some Park territories. Armed with machine guns and weapons of mass destruction, the ability of poachers to successfully hunt large mammals dramatically changed the course of events. There were immediate and severe consequences.
As a result, signs of biosphere degradation became apparent. Wildlife populations were decimated. For example, in the first 15 months of war the Kahuzi-Biega National Park (PNKB) elephant population declined by as much as 100 percent in the controlled area. A survey conducted by this author and coauthor in August 2000 found that elephants are no longer present in Upemba and Kundelungu National Parks. Between 1998-2000, within the ICCN monitored sector of Kahuzi-Biega National Park (PNKB) the Grauer's Gorilla population declined by 55 percent (from 240 down to 132). It is assumed that other areas that have not benefited from ICCN activities may have suffered greater decimation of their wildlife populations.
The bonobo's very confined occupancy range has been bisected by the frontline of adversarial zones of conflict. Salonga National Park is the only nationally protected reserve within bonobo range and represents the largest potential area of protection for bonobos. The demarcation line of conflict cuts through Salonga. In addition, the broader forested area south of the Congo River supports a major distinct regional center of primate diversity including several unique endemic taxa such as Thollon's Red Colobus, Black Mangabey, Salonga guenon, Wolf's mona monkey, and Golden-bellied mangabey, primates that may also benefit from the umbrella of Salonga National Park protection.
Since 1992, as the director of the Lukuru Wildlife Research Project (LWRP) I have worked in DRC. The northern portion of the LWRP overlaps the southern 20 percent of Salonga National Park. Our project focuses on the study of the bonobo. Beginning in 1994, the director and local staff of the LWRP launched ongoing communications with the staff of Salonga National Park - South Sector (PNS-SS) to coordinate bonobo conservation efforts and in 1997 we prepared our first shipment of material support for the park. In March and April of 1998 a mixed LWRP/ICCN team collaborated on a bonobo/mammal distribution survey in PNS-SS and collected information on human activities and attitudes. In June 1998, I was forced to flee the Lukuru field site as Africa's first war approached but the LWRP staff continued working on the ground. While monitoring the crisis from outside, I saw a crucial need for wildlife conservation and responded by founding the DRC Parks Emergency Relief Mission in July 1999 in partnership with Nouvelles Approches (NA) who have over 20 years affiliation with national parks in Katanga Province, DRC, and endorsed by the Ape Alliance. The mission of this historic partnership has been to support the DRC Park's personnel, restore function of ICCN, facilitate reconstruction of the infrastructure, and promote the continued safeguarding of wildlife communities within the nationally recognized protected areas ... a ≥human needs approach0 to fighting the loss of biological diversity.
The Relief Mission was an immediate, short-term, "bottom-up" emergency effort to be achieved even in the midst of war and turmoil. Information concerning the situation was distributed globally and our international donors responded. Through the Relief Mission, the LWRP and NA facilitated support either financially or with in-kind services from 40 organizations (see Appendix I) from the global conservation community and individuals in nine countries on five continents. Our goal was to provide emergency survival and morale supplies directly to the DRC Park Rangers, which we could reach and where we did not compete with other efforts already in place. Our priorities were the certainty of secure delivery of supplies and the short-term nature of the mission. The way we worked was to communicate with ICCN, respective Parc Conservateurs, and other NGOs affiliated with each park about the critical needs of each site. Then we purchased the items (including things specific to individual park needs) and delivered them into the hands of the respective Park Conservateur via our secure contacts. In most cases we (Michel and/or I) were able to personally distribute the materials. This way we are assured that each dollar spent arrived to its destination. All funds donated were used to purchase materials. Our effort was not towards developing an in-country structure or lasting program. We were an emergency on-the-ground response team. Imperative for our success was that we had established an exit strategy at the onset of our mission.
We were working through joint in-country cooperation with ICCN, resident contacts, and local NGO's. This was no easy task and required careful, deliberate orchestration in a country effectively partitioned and in the throes of war. The most critical feature of our success was regular and transparent communications. The Park Rangers are a very experienced and dedicated group of men, committed to their tasks, known to risk their very lives to protect their charges, personally faced with desperate economic circumstances, and the only ones who will ultimately conserve DRC wildlife.
In a few short months the direct contributions from the DRC Parks Relief Mission sponsor organizations and individuals across the globe enabled us to provide those items listed in Appendix II, materials which respond to the emotional and physical needs of the Park Rangers and aide them in monitoring, patrolling, and protecting their critical wildlife and habitats. They now know that their efforts are extremely important, that the international community cares and is providing concrete support on their behalf.
Additionally, we undertook to produce the new Garde de Parc uniforms for all ICCN personnel across DRC. In accordance with the 1969 Statute of ICCN, the Garde are to be provided with a uniform. Between 1996-1997 government and occupying forces stripped all ICCN Garde of their uniforms. Returning the ICCN Garde to a state of full uniform was urgent. Inline with the highest priority objectives established by ICCN, we produced the Garde uniforms. In producing the Parc de Garde uniforms, over 80 percent of the funds were spent in Kinshasa demonstrating the ideal union between conservation and economic development. We have also produced 1,600 sets of the new "ICCN Garde de Parc" insignia patches to be worn on the cap, shirt pocket, and a set on the left sleeve of each uniform. These uniforms are a very potent symbol to their national community and continuity. The uniforms give the Rangers their identity, motivation, sense of unity and primary source of professional pride.
In addition to these ventures, the Relief Mission financed the production of conservation magazines ('Le Gorille : Parc National de Kahuzi-Biega ') for the communal human population in and around PNKB. We supported the first survey of PNKB (conducted in June 2000 by ICCN and Wildlife Conservation Society) by providing important research equipment including five GPS units, tents, backpacks, and rain ponchos.
We have completed our goal by securely delivering materials to Kahuzi-Biega, Upemba, Kundelungu, and Salonga National Parks, as well as manufacturing uniforms for all DRC Parks Gardes and producing the new Garde de Parc insignia patches for 1,600 personnel across the whole of the country. Our efforts and communications have also inspired an American NGO to begin working in Maiko National Park, the first efforts on-the-ground in a decade. Today the Congolese authorities have actively renewed their commitment to conservation. They are responding proactively by reorganizing park management, but they need external help as they rebuild their agenda. By providing equipment, supplies, educational materials, emergency resources, and motivational support, the DRC Parks Relief Mission has achieved a tangible and meaningful conservation effort. We have witnessed park guards who have regained their identity, motivation, unity, and self-esteem.
African Environmental Film Foundation, Kenya
Ape Alliance, United Kingdom
Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe, Germany
Born Free Foundation, United Kingdom
Brevard Zoo, Florida
Chester Zoo, United Kingdom
Cincinnati Zoo Conservation Fund, Ohio
Columbus Zoo CCMC Sulatalu Fund, Ohio
Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund-Europe
Disney's Animal Kingdom Conservation Fund
Fort Worth Zoo AAZK Chapter, Texas
Friends of Washoe
Fund for Animals, Inc.
CoopÈration Technique Allemande-GTZ, DRC
Gorilla Foundation, California
Gorilla Haven, Georgia
Humane Society US
Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature, DRC
International Fund for Animal Welfare
International Game Warden Magazine, Italy
International Primate Protection League
Jacksonville Zoo, Florida
Los Angeles Zoo AAZK Chapter, California
Lowry Park Zoo AAZK Chapter, Florida
Lukuru Wildlife Research Project
Ministre des Affaires Foncieres, Environnement et Tourisme, DRC
MONUC in Kinshasa, Kisangani, Kananga, and Goma, DRC
Nouvelles Approches, Belgium
Oakland Zoo AAZK Chapter, California
Oakland Zoo Bushmeat Crisis Action Group, California
Oakland Zoo Bushmeat Crisis Action Group
Primate Conservation, Incorporated
ProTier Magazine, Zurich
Southern Missouri State University Anthropology Club
Tulsa Zoo AAZK Chapter, Oklahoma
US Fish and Wildlife Service
USAID, Kinshasa, DRC
Wildlife Conservation Society
Emergency Resources and Motivational Support
Personal items: woman's clothe pagne's; 1,300 lbs of mixed clothing for men, women, and children; donated Zoo keeper uniforms; 100-lb bale of socks; pairs of flip flop sandals; and blankets.
Household goods: sacks of rock salt; large serving spoons; table knives; cups; bowls; buckets; matches; razor blades; lock & key sets; mosquito netting for beds; spools of thread; safety pins; sachets of 10 litre bidons; powdered milk; sugar; and cartons of soap.
Basic medicines: Amodiaquine (Malaridose Zenufa : a regionally appropriate and available malaria cure treatment 3-pill protocol); Chloramphenicd Collyre (pink-eye drops); Amoxycillin capsules; Multivit tablets (multivitamins); Paracetamol tablets; Fortified Procaine Penicillin - Injectible Benzyl penicilliin vials; Sachets of Oral Rehydrations Salts; Quinine Sulfate; Aspirin tablets; Indomethac Indocide (muscle relaxant); Mebendazole tablets (worm cure medicine); Metronidazole anti-helminthic and antiamebic; Erythromycine; cotton balls; syringes; sterile precision-glide needles; winged infusion sets; alcohol preps; sterile IV sets; sodium chloride drip bags; and Liquid cough suppressant for children.
Anti-poaching equipment and development tools: rubber boots; Coleman Nevada 2-person tents; Lafuma rain ponchos; Bergamo backpacks; 240 and 160 machetes; shovels; hoes (to clear patrol routes); canteens; GPS units; 100 2-meter-sized industrial sacks to transport cash crops to market; salaries to the park personnel; a color printer; a scanner; computer software; construction materials to repair Ranger houses and administrative structures; a hydroelectric plant generator; and bicycles.
Communications equipment: 40 Motorola walkie-talkies with rechargeable batteries (and regular backup batteries); and new VHF radiophoniques with accessories including antenna, cables, 12V battery, solar panels.
Wildlife conservation education materials: posters; pencils; stickers; special cahiers and depliants; magazines; brochures; and tee shirts.
Administrative supplies and equipment: manual typewriters with spare ribbons; bics; reams of paper; and boxes of envelopes.
School supplies: construction paper; pencils; bics; blackboards; chalk; school books and materials; museum donated scientific literature; scissors; glue; posters; water color paints; paint brushes; cahiers; toys; and soccer balls.
Arguably, some scientists still consider a small number of Grauer's gorillas occur in Uganda. Ape population percentages presented here were calculated by Tom Butynski (2001).