Protected area management in the Green Heart of Africa

Fishermen with cast net fishing on the Dzanga River. Central African Republic.
© WWF / Martin HARVEY

Keeping protected areas protected

Although protected areas are designed to sustain ecosystems and wildlife in perpetuity, fulfilling these vital functions is a major struggle.
For WWF, keeping encroachment, bushmeat hunting, mining, illegal logging and other threats at bay while responding to people’s basic needs is a tough but necessary balancing act - one that requires a thorough understanding of the situation and sound management.

To guarantee the long-term protection of an important area, a deft mix of law enforcement, community awareness and ongoing monitoring are necessary. Across the Congo River Basin, WWF deploys these activities differently, depending on the context.

From elephant surveys to archaeological digs

To manage protected areas effectively, one needs a comprehensive understanding of the species found inside, their dynamics and needs, the pressures they face, along with the social context.

In the Central African Republic’s Dzanga-Sangha Dense Forest Special Reserve and Dzanga-Ndoki National Park, WWF is carrying out ecological and social studies and ecosystem protection, including vegetation surveys, research on elephants - and even archaeological surveys.

Taking the pulse of local communities

But this information is useless unless we understand – and especially address – the condition and needs of local communities. Their lifestyle and behaviour often play determining roles in the effectiveness of a protected area.

To take a closer look at this process, we must travel to Virunga National Park, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where high poverty and a population explosion are forcing people into the park.

Virunga, a park where destinies collide

Virunga National Park, established in 1925, is a World Heritage Site located in the most species-rich area in Africa for vertebrates and other species that are found nowhere else on earth.

But the fertile volcanic soils in the area also support the highest human population density in Africa (up to 600 people/km2). This causes huge pressure to convert natural habitat to farmland.1

Relieving the pressure points on the Park

To deal with the pressure, WWF conducted a socio-economic study in the park’s peripheral area, focusing on neighbouring populations.

Following the concerted action of WWF and the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN), some 50,000 people who had entered the Park during the conflict that ravaged the country have left it voluntarily. WWF is following-up this process by identifying, and designing projects that aim to improve the living conditions of populations in new settlement areas.

However, improving the living conditions of local inhabitants does not guarantee the integrity of a protected area. Enforcement is also needed.
 / ©: CARPE
[click to enlarge] Virunga landscape.
 / ©: WWF / Martin HARVEY
Park Game Guards with captured poachers. Dzanga-Ndoki National Park, Central African Replublic.
© WWF / Martin HARVEY

Training the protectors of protected areas

There is a severe shortfall of trained people to protect and manage the protected areas of the Congo Basin forests. Building the capacity and increasing the motivation of protected areas staff is critical to ensure good protection, an activity that WWF is heavily invested in.

In Cameroon’s national parks of Lake Lobéké, Boumba Bek and Nki, game guards are trained to reinforce the existing team and the government has increased its involvement and funding to support guards. 

Further to the east in the Central African Republic’s Dzanga-Sangha Dense Forest Special Reserve and Dzanga-Ndoki National Park, WWF has trained forest guards and is implementing patrols and recording anti-poaching results to develop statistics to be used to track illegal poaching activities.

Similar efforts are under way in Virunga National Park in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Passing on management skills to locals

Because the ultimate beneficiaries of protected areas are local inhabitants, they should be the long-term caretakers of these areas. WWF’s work in the Congo River Basin puts a special emphasis on creating the next generation of protected areas managers – not only protected area staff but people who have a stake in the protection of a high biodiversity area.

These concerns are translating into concerted efforts through the Virunga Environmental Programme (PEVi) in DRC. There, WWF is raising the environmental awareness of local people and sharing skills for the management of natural resources around the National Park. This project has remained active throughout the conflict in the DRC.

Making sure that the basic infrastructure is in place

In the Congo River Basin, a majority of protected areas are severely lacking in basic infrastructure and equipment. This may include basic tools such as VHF equipment, desktop computers and means of transport. In addition to that, salaries for rangers are meagre.

Where necessary, WWF provides direct funding to cover these shortfalls. For example, in Lake Lobéké and Boumba Bek National Parks in Cameroon, WWF contributed to the construction of barriers at all major entrances.

In the past, these entrances were used by poachers and vehicles transporting bushmeat from the parks and surrounding forest areas. WWF has erected new park headquarters and trans-boundary outposts in Lobéké to support cross-border conservation efforts.

Managing protected areas across borders

In several places in the Congo River Basin, WWF has been promoting the cross-border management of protected areas. One example is the Tri-Nationale de la Sangha (TNS), which brings together Lobéké National Park (Cameroon), Nouabalé-Ndoki (Congo-Brazzaville) and Dzanga-Sangha (Central African Republic).

WWF is involved in the TNS with the implementation of anti-poaching patrols that have led to a drop in trans-border hunting and bushmeat trade. There are regular exchange visits and meetings of technical staff, leading to better coordination of field activities.

1USAID CARPE. 2005. Forests of the Congo River Basin: a preliminary assessment. Balmar: Washington DC.

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