Establishing protected areas in the Green Heart of Africa

Fishermen rowing on a wooden boat. Dzanga river, Central African Republic
© WWF / Martin HARVEY

Protected areas, ‘medicine’ of the forests

Protected areas come in all shapes and sizes, protection categories and management types. There’s a simple reason for this. In the Congo River Basin, conditions and pressures vary greatly from one place to another. For WWF and partners, these factors are crucial to identify the best protected area ‘package’.

One of the many ways WWF contributes to the establishment of protected areas is by collecting and disseminating key data about areas that need to be safeguarded. This can be a lengthy undertaking, but one that is well worth the investment.

Candidate areas under the magnifying glass

What are we protecting? How should it be protected? To what extent? There are no easy answers to these questions, but we know where to look for them.

Take Gabon for instance, where we have a successful history of establishing protected areas. Along with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the local Water and Forests Services, we carried out a 2-year field research programme, which led to a successful proposal for the creation of a national parks system.

As an outcome of this effort, some 12 national parks were declared by the government by 2005.

Different places, different protected areas

In the southwest reaches of the Central African Republic (CAR), WWF has collaborated with the government to create the Dzanga-Sangha Dense Forest Special Reserve and the Dzanga-Ndoki National Park.

These protected areas include 4,500 km2 of intact moist tropical rainforest, contain high densities of wildlife and are the home of the BaAka forest people.

But why not have 2 national parks instead of a national park and a special reserve? Special reserve status allows for multiple uses of the protected area, including traditional and safari hunting, rural development, selective logging and tourism. In a national park, such activities would not be possible.

Protected areas that cross borders: sharing the pie

For large blocks of forest that span more than 1 country, it often makes more sense to protect them as 1 unit rather than have each country manage their share independently.

There are several reasons for this: protected areas staff can move more easily from one country to the other within the protected area (especially useful when chasing illegal loggers); exchange of information is increased; and law enforcement cooperation is improved.
Such is the case of the TRIDOM, a transboundary network of protected areas between Dja National Park in Cameroon, Odzala National Park in Congo-Brazzaville and Minkebé National Park in Gabon.

The TRIDOM, a shared asset

WWF has played a key role in the development of the TRIDOM. We spearheaded the feasibility studies for the protected area, the work in the field, the lobbying and also provided financing.

A more recent development - the TRIDOM accord - provides the framework for one of the most important transboundary conservation programmes in the Congo River Basin. This involves setting up sustainable management systems for natural resources within 15 million ha of forests.   

Thinking beyond protected areas

Establishing protected areas is often the first step in a wider effort to protect a landscape. In fact, the creation of a protected area is often viewed as a catalysing tool for conservation in a much wider area.
 / ©: CARPE
Dja-Minkébé-Odzala Tri-National (TRIDOM) Landscape [click to download landscape profile from CARPE website]

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