As majestic and magnificent as it is, Salonga is a landscape in turmoil.
Within the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in an area so remote that it can only be accessed by water or air, lies the Salonga National Park.
Extending over 33,350km2, Africa’s largest forest national park is home to local and indigenous communities who share their home with 51 known species of mammals, 129 species of fish, and 223 species of birds, including forest elephants, bonobos, bongos, giant pangolins, and the endemic Congo peacock.
Historical challenges and rising pressures
Unfortunately, Salonga has faced many years of turmoil as a result of civil conflict. This has resulted in significant instability. People living in the region face terrible socio-economic hardship, with weak governance and a lack of services.
Salonga was classified as a World Heritage site in 1984. But its incredible biodiversity is under intense threat today from poaching and wildlife trafficking, which endanger its heritage status and, critically, the lives and livelihoods of the people who depend on its resources. The area has recently suffered from significant wildlife crime as poachers have targeted elephants for ivory. There is also a large commercial trade in bushmeat from the area to markets in Congolese cities.
Pressure on the government ecoguards tasked with protecting Salonga against such threats are an all too real challenge. And while their jobs are difficult and dangerous, violence by some government ecoguards against community members is an equally grave concern. There have been disturbing reports in recent years of some government ecoguards using inappropriate force against local community members. To assist efforts to hold accountable government rangers accused of criminal acts, WWF International commissioned a report from a local human rights group
for the express purpose of assisting the government in holding any violent rangers to account. The investigative team reviewed substantial evidence relating to 21 allegations against rangers and/or military personnel and interviewed reported victims, witnesses, and accused. With even a single case of violation being one too many, especially for people that have been historically marginalized and discriminated against in the DRC, the findings of the recent report are distressing. WWF has and will continue to advocate for and fully support swift prosecution of any government ecoguard involved in any violence against community members.
WWF’s goal is to protect both people and nature in Salonga, towards our vision of a future in which both people and nature thrive.
As WWF and other conservation organisations make the call for an ambitious New Deal for Nature and People
, including scientific targets that reverse nature loss, address the climate crisis, and deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals, we continue to advance strengthened approaches to conservation
that support Indigenous Peoples and local communities to secure rights and access to their collective lands and territories.
To date in Salonga, we’ve played a key role in the following actions:
- Creation and official validation of 172.807 ha community forests, providing land rights to local communities achieved 3 community forests (13.000 ha) by indigenous BaTwa and further 250.000 ha of community forests in the park corridor in process of creation and validation.
- 350 CLD (comités locaux de développement - local development committees) as well as 5 CARG (Conseil Agricole Rural de Gestion - Rural Agricultural Management Council), 3 CLER (Comité Local d’Entretien Routier - Local Road Maintenance Committee) and 171 Organisations paysannes (Farmer associations) set up. Working on rural development activities with partner organizations. A key focus of these interventions has been on conservation agriculture—measures to intensify farming as an alternative to slash and burn cropping, mainly by supporting farmer field schools and pilot farms, facilitating market access, supporting extension and setting up seed banks and nurseries.
- Supporting the development of two community health centers for the BaTwa, supported cottage industries (i.e. soap making) and invested in literacy education for the BaTwa people.
Our continued engagement with the government in Salonga National Park is conditioned on a mutual agreement to operationalize protections for human rights, including demonstrated commitment to systemic changes to ensure that human rights are given the highest priority.
While these discussions proceed, we are already engaged with the Government to identify and mitigate risks for communities related to conservation activities in Salonga, and in addition we are:
- As part of WWF’s enhanced Environmental and Social Safeguards Framework, working with the government’s l’Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) to identify actions to reduce risks, including a mandatory guide of conduct to be signed by all government ecoguards, offering training and mentoring on human rights and calling for immediate consequences for any misconduct according to regulations in place in the DRC;
- Taking steps to ensure all government ecoguards in Salonga undergo further training in human rights prior to being permitted to join patrols from Jan 2020 onwards; and
- Urgently advancing a new and strengthened grievance mechanism to be available to all community members in and around the park, to be run by an independent human rights organization.
With a recent biomonitoring assessment confirming relatively stable populations of elephants and bonobos -1,600 forest elephants and 15,000 bonobos – it is critical to ensure conservation also delivers positive impact for the people in Salonga who depend on its biodiversity the most. This is why we are looking to further improve our understanding of the local economy and market chains, promote and support GESI (Gender and Social Inclusivity) programming, and help adapt the landscape governance model to ensure local communities have a larger voice and role in its management. It is not an easy feat, but it is one we are wholly committed to and will remain so.
As we work to help secure the long-term future of Salonga for the well-being of people and nature, both locally and worldwide, we remain fully committed to work together with partners and local communities to protect Salonga and the people who depend on it.