For Immediate Release
On the seventh of July 2016, Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) officially established Lomami National Park, the first national park since 1970 and only the eighth in the country. This park of 8,874 km2 is carved from what was, ten years ago, the largest unknown forest block in DR Congo, 40,000 km2 between the rivers Tshuapa and Lualaba. Therein lies the Lomami basin, an area with little settlement and about which there was no knowledge, beyond that of local hunters concerning forest composition or the identity of animals it sheltered.
The Lomami National Park has been a long time in the making. In 2007 with funding from Arcus Foundation, the Abraham Foundation and US Fish and Wildlife Service the Lukuru Foundation started exploring the unknown forests. Its expedition was called the TL2 Project, for the three rivers Tshuapa, Lomami and Lualaba.
The Project extended the known range of bonobos, Congo’s endemic great ape, further to the southeast. The TL2 project found okapi, DR Congo’s forest giraffe, where its presence was only suspected. The Lukuru teams found Congo peacock, unique to Congo, abundant throughout the area. And only a year into exploration they started to record a mystery monkey which later was found to be a new species, Cercopithecus lomamiensis. Furthermore, an extremely rare monkey previously known only to have a tiny range north of Salonga National Park in Kokolopori, was again found by the TL2 teams in what now are the Lomami National Park and its buffer zone. In fact the new national park has more Congo endemics than any other protected area in the country.
The Lomami National Park also has forest elephants. As elsewhere throughout the elephant’s forest range, they are under a severe poaching threat, the more so as the gangs that pursue them in the TL2 zone are run by criminals whose records include rape, murder, pillaging and arson. The Lukuru teams were only able to help take a stand for the Lomami elephants through a close collaboration with the Congolese Army, FARDC. With help from the Wildcat Foundation the FARDC and ICCN (Congolese Nature Conservation Institute) have been able to increase security in the park and in the peripheral communities, both by detecting illegal activity and bringing justice to bear.
Indeed the building of the Lomami National Park was totally dependent on collaborations. Lukuru could only do its explorations on the invitation of the Congolese Nature Conservation Institute (ICCN). It was the director of ICCN, Cosma Wilungulu, who in 2009, on the basis of Lukuru teams’ early discoveries, called for the creation of a National Park. From there, continuous outreach and collaborations with local chiefs through town baraza meetings and traditional tambiko ceremonies, first led to community agreement for a park and eventually to an accord on its limits. Such community agreement could not have been reached by ICCN and a project working alone; sector chiefs, territorial administrator and provincial ministers all became involved. About a year ago it was a joint letter from the governors of Tshopo province and Maniema province that pushed towards the final national level agreements, a process that has been closely monitored by the governor of Maniema along with his environmental minister and provincial deputies and senators.
In the meantime Lukuru broadened its activities beyond research and monitoring to include the whole scope of protection and outreach needed to maintain a park. This became necessary when both Maniema province in 2010 and Tshopo Province (then Orientale) in 2013 created two provincial parks to protect the area until there was national park status. This meant Lukuru had to provide surveillance in the park and alternatives for hunters coming from outside the park. A year ago we started village fish ponds in three pilot communities and assistance to individual villagers making their own ponds. The TL2 project teams were responsible for surveillance in association with military until 2015 when ICCN organized the first guard training in the Lomami Park with funds coming through the Lukuru Foundation. These park guards are now dispersed in the seven operational surveillance camps Lukuru established over the years on the park border or (one) within the park.
Already monitoring results show that the fauna inside the park is protected from the severe hunting that occurs in some areas on the park periphery. Surveillance activities have extended through most of the park and it is hoped that another ICCN guard training in 2016/17 will facilitate this further. ICCN selected almost all of the current park guards from the surrounding communities – which themselves include seven separate principle ethnicities: Mbole, Lengola, Mituku, Langa, Ngengele, Arabisées, and Tetela. This employment as well as employment within our own project as administrators, researchers, assistants and porters helps show the value of the park.
The local nature of the teams has certainly added to the enthusiasm and the determination of the staff on the ground. Without their continuous outreach, close community connection and ability to foresee problems in advance and provide local solutions, the plans for a national park would still be far from realization.
The real challenge is only now getting underway. A National Park is as strong as the surrounding communities are supportive. Where we have been able to do the most outreach and the most alternative work, the communities have held meetings to determine a way forward for managing their own forest peripheral to the park. DR Congo, in new legislation, provides a way that communities can work with ICCN to gain permanent control over their forests if able to show management rules leading to long term forest sustainability and possibly long term hunting viability. Some communities have already asked for help in management but we are certain that it will take a major effort to set up truly sustainable community forest reserves around the park. The initiative will require many collaborators with a common goal.
Support to the TL2/Lukuru project is currently from: Arcus Foundation, FCF (anonymous), Rainforest Trust, US Fish and Wildlife Service, WildCat Foundation and Edith Mcbean
In the recent past we have had important support from: Woodtiger Fund, Elephant Crisis Fund, World Parrot Trust, Canadian Ape Alliance, and Abraham Foundation.
For more information visit http://www.bonoboincongo.com