Protected areas in the Green Heart of Africa

Forest elephant (Loxodonta africana cyclotis). Female and calf digging with tusks and trunk for mineral rich mud, in order to supplement their diet and possibly to neutralize toxins. Dzanga Bai. Dzanga-Ndoki National Park, Central African Republic (CAR)
© WWF / Martin HARVEY

The building blocks to save the basin forests

In an ideal world, the Congo Basin forests would be protected by a network of ecologically representative and financially viable protected areas, included in managed landscapes.

This system would span from the Ruwenzori Mountains in the east of the basin to the Gulf of Guinea, connected by conservation corridors of responsibly managed forests. In WWF’s experience, this process is a matter of joining the pieces.

WWF and protected areas

Over the decades, WWF has played a major role in helping set aside natural areas for biodiversity conservation. We support communities, local governments and other stakeholders to manage them for their long-term benefit – a sound investment for the future.

Perhaps one of WWF’s most critical works-in-progress under way globally is the Protected Areas Initiative, which seeks to:
  • Promote the creation of new forest protected areas using WWF “Gifts to the Earth” as a major potential tool.
  • Improve management of existing protected areas.
  • Develop a practical tool for conservation planning.
  • Lobby for improved protected area networks.
  • Explore alternative methods for site-based biodiversity conservation.

Protected areas in the Congo River Basin

With rampant illegal logging and intense bushmeat hunting, it is more important than ever to protect areas of high biodiversity values.

However, equally important in the process is demonstrating to local communities that the establishment of protected areas will ultimately benefit their lives – even if this may limit the access of people to some areas that they had previously used. In Central Africa, where poverty is a fact of life, this process needs special consideration.

Why create protected areas when people need forests so badly?

When some protected areas are established, there may be local people who not being able to access areas they previously used for hunting or gathering timber and non-timber products. They need to find alternative solutions that may be more expensive and cumbersome, at least in the short term. So what good are protected areas to local people?

The best way to explain the benefits of protected areas is to illustrate what happens in their absence, or when their boundaries are not respected.
 / ©: WWF / Martin HARVEY
Park game rangers on patrol in Dzanga-Ndoki National Park, Central African Republic.
© WWF / Martin HARVEY

The ‘no protected areas’ scenario

There is often a free-for-all hunting, which decimates wildlife at a higher rate than its natural recovery rate. The targeted species can become locally extinct. With protected areas in place and respected, wildlife populations that live within their boundaries can expand until they begin ‘spilling’ over in areas where hunting is allowed.

Where a forested area acts as a watershed but is not protected, clean water supplies may no longer be available, with serious consequences for local communities. Ensuring that the forest is protected is the best insurance people may have for future water supplies.

In addition to the environmental insurance afforded by a healthy ecosystem, any economic or social benefits that arises from it are in jeopardy if the ecosystem comes under threat. A protected area provides the framework to ensure that the ecosystem and its services persist over time.

Find out about how and where WWF has helped establish protected areas, and what it takes to manage and finance them.

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