Our history in the Green Heart of Africa

Decades of conservation achievements

For over more than 20 years, WWF staff have been walking the forests of the Congo River Basin, engaging with local people and heads of state, to ensure that this global natural treasure still exists for future generations.

From modest but ambitious beginnings, our presence in the region has grown to deal with a range of environmental and poverty-related challenges – often in the face of intense political turmoil and uncertainty.

Nose to nose with gorillas

In the early days, WWF’s emphasis was on the region’s amazing wildlife. With dedicated staff travelling extensively in the Congo Basin forests, studying gorillas and other wildlife, great progress was made in understanding the behaviour and needs of endangered species living here.

For example, Dr Richard Carroll’s early observations of logging activities and hunting prompted him to try rescuing the gorillas’ habitat, while also protecting the rights of the local indigenous BaAka pygmies.

Having persuaded authorities to outlaw hunting (with an allowance for the BaAka to maintain traditional hunting), Richard instituted education programmes and healthcare that melded traditional knowledge with modern medicine. Such innovative approaches continue today.

How things work

"To know if my intentions were not bad, an old man in the group was charged with carrying out a test. He harvested some leaves around and chewed. He then spat out the chaff on the ground - full of his saliva and I was asked to pick the stuff and chew also. I had no choice. That is how WWF got access to that part of the programme  area and we have been working closely with the communities since then."

WWF Sociologist
 / ©:  WWF / Michel GUNTHER
WWF camp Minkébé Forest, Gabon
© WWF / Michel GUNTHER

A historical focus on protected areas…

WWF has been active in southeast Cameroon since 1990. There, our initial involvement focused mainly on elephant inventories and then on a landmark programme to establish protected areas.

Begun in the mid-1990s, this programme committed the Government of Cameroon to the creation of 3 protected areas: Lake Lobéké, Boumba Bek and Nki, covering more than 700,000 ha.

But protected areas in the traditional sense cannot work where local people rely on forests for survival. So WWF also helped establish community-hunting areas to address local subsistence needs - in particular, those of the indigenous BaAka pygmies.

In Gabon, WWF has focused on protected areas management, working with the Government in Minkébé in the northeastern region and the Gamba Complex for over 15 years.

WWF also led the process of developing a ground-breaking trans-border programme centred on Minkébé National Park, linking it to Dja, Boumba Bek and Nki Reserves in Cameroon and Odzala National Park in Congo-Brazzaville.

Our efforts to set up more protected areas are continuous. In collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), we carried out background surveys and studies that led to the creation of 13 new National Parks, announced by the President of Gabon in 2002.

…and a recent push on landscape management

While the support of WWF to protected areas management is critical, there is a risk that the speed and nature of logging will reduce these to “green islands” in a sea of devastation. Increasingly, integrated landscape management has provided the necessary framework for WWF’s intervention at a larger scale.

 / ©: WWF / Frederick J. WEYERHAEUSER
Still waters in the rainforest. Korup National Park, Cameroon

Major success in the policy sector

On the ground partnerships with communities are not enough. To move forward with large-scale conservation at a regional level, it is also crucial to have government participation.

To this end, WWF has played an instrumental role in the process to commit Central African leaders to protect the Congo Basin forests, which resulted in the Yaoundé Declaration.

The Yaoundé Process is ongoing and the high-level political will to conserve the region’s forests has already delivered tangible results in the Congo Basin. This commitment was reaffirmed during the 2005 Brazzaville Summit, where the regional Heads of States signed the COMIFAC treaty.

WWF’s work in the Congo Basin: an integrated effort

WWF’s work in the region has become closely integrated with the Congo Basin Forest Partnership, which seeks to create new protected areas, strengthen the management of existing ones, and provide opportunities for economic development.

André Kamden Toham, Leader of WWF's Green Heart of Africa Initiative, helped design the conservation blueprint that formed the basis for this partnership.

For Toham, forest conservation is personal. "I grew up in a forest area, and the forest is built into my way of living," Toham says of the passion he has for his work. "So having a wild place that is safe and protected is something that is very important to me."

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