New era for conservation and communities in Itombwe, DRC
The governor of South Kivu province signed the decree at a ceremony in Itombwe on June 23rd, which was attended by representatives of the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN), WWF, WCS, RACCOMI, AfriCapacity, provincial civil society groups and local communities – all of whom were involved in efforts to demarcate the borders of the reserve.
“This is the start of a new era for the reserve and for conservation in Itombwe,” said Jean Claude Muhindo, National Director of WWF-DRC, which has long campaigned for the reserve’s borders to be officially recognised. “Now that the reserve is fully established, we can all work together to preserve this critical habitat for the benefit of iconic species as well as local communities.”
Initially gazetted in 2006, Itombwe Nature Reserve is home to an astonishing array of species, including many that are threatened or endangered – such as forest elephants, chimpanzees and Grauer’s gorillas.
A recent survey found that the overall population of Grauer’s gorillas in eastern DRC had fallen by 77% in the past 20 years. Numbers have plummeted in Itombwe as well, but the establishment of the reserve should help to safeguard the remaining gorillas.
“Grauer’s gorillas are under real threat but partners can now invest more in Itombwe and help to save this critical population,” said Muhindo. “Mountain gorillas attract substantial tourism revenues and build support for conservation in Virunga. Grauer’s gorillas could do the same in Itombwe and help to transform the livelihoods of local people.”
After years of insecurity and insufficient funding, a lot still needs to be done. However, progress is being made. Together with local NGOs and communities, WWF and WCS are helping to zone the reserve – defining where conservation, sustainable use and human development will take place within it.
“This decree shows that the government is committed to preserving Itombwe but it must now enforce existing laws on nature conservation to ensure the protection of the area’s wildlife,” said Dr Leonard Mubalama, Head of WWF’s office in South Kivu province. “If it does, we know what Itombwe could become: a haven for wildlife and a sustainable source of income and natural resources for communities in and around the reserve.”