Garamba National Park: Conservation in the midst of conflict
Along the Democratic Republic of Congo’s 200-kilometre border with South Sudan lies the Garamba National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park is home to a host of endangered species – including around 47 of the rare Kordofan giraffe, as well as 1,300 elephants – but many of them are under threat from bushmeat hunters and ivory poachers. who often consist of armed groups, including the Lord’s Resistance Army, South Sudanese rebels and other regional groups.
In 2005, the government agency Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) began a partnership with the conservation organisation African Parks to manage the park and combat threats to wildlife, with support from the EU and other partners. Garamba’s general manager John Barrett shared his experience of addressing these threats with Capacity4dev.
The first goal was to equip and train the park’s rangers to counter heavily militarised poaching attacks. “We are providing sustained training and capacity building to the ICCN rangers,” said Barrett. “They are law enforcement officers, so they can legally carry weapons and have rules of engagement. But it’s difficult for them because it’s not always certain what they’re going to come up against.”
The rangers’ work extends beyond protecting the wildlife. “We have to face the poachers, but there are also threats from groups like the Lord’s Resistance Army,” Barrett said. “These groups are more than poachers – they terrorise the locals and steal from them.
In the following video, John Barret outlines the main challenges Garamba’s conservationists face, and discusses collaboration beyond the park’s borders:
“The range of tasks we’ve got to do is getting larger,” he added. Part of it is akin to intelligence work, finding out what is going on in the area. “The rangers’ professional conduct is key – their skill and knowledge of the area and local languages allow them to detect what’s out of the ordinary.”
Donations have helped extend patrols to cover the entire park and put in place digital communication systems and mapping to improve anti-poaching monitoring.
“Using GIS mapping tools will make quite a big difference to a range of park activities,” Barrett said. “We can better understand the topography, better map the geographical features, settlements and wildlife. I think it will make a big difference to our understanding, using it judiciously to support all of our departments in the park.”
The rangers’ who are the only law enforcement on the ground have their needed supplies including firearms funded by private donors, as the park’s federal and public donors like the EU and USAID have limits on what can be purchased. “It might not be weapons, but it might be boots,” Barrett said. “It might not be ammunition, but it could be paying for a consultant to come in to look at the issue of illegal mining.”
Alongside this work, and just as important for the long-term survival of the park, is an extensive community-engagement programme. Around 200,000 people live around the park, including refugees who have fled to the area. “Eighty percent of refugees coming through are unarmed woman and children,” Barret said. “Our rangers show them the way.”
Virunga: Preserving Africa’s national parks through people-centred development
Home to rare and endangered species, the Congo’s national parks are also sites of human conflict. Without addressing the material drivers behind ecological degradation, conservation risks a losing battle. For Virunga, this was not an option– as Africa’s oldest national park, tackling socio-economic challenges facing local populations was a necessity in preserving its natural heritage.
Capacity4dev caught up with Virunga's director Emmanuel de Merode and DG DEVCO's Head of Unit for Environment Chantal Marijnissen to discuss the park's approaches to conservation and local development. Find out more: http://europa.eu/!FT84jv
An important element is simply spreading the word on what is and isn’t permitted in the park. “In the park’s periphery, people don’t really know what’s allowed,” said Barrett. “This has led to many people fishing and hunting bushmeat. We’ve also noted deforestation linked to charcoal production. It’s not necessarily their fault at the moment – it’s our responsibility to be more consistent with our engagement with the communities.”
In addition, the park is working to provide basic services and create economic alternatives to poaching and illegal activities. “The idea is to link peripheral settlements and communities to biodiversity for some form of economic benefit,” Barrett said.
The park itself employs 430 full-time and over 2000 casual staff, making it one of the largest employers in the area. It has also helped to set up four mobile-health clinics for local communities. Medical consultations are free, while medication is provided at-cost, or for free to the families of park employees.
The park currently has very little internal revenue, so relies on assistance. But it hopes to turn that around: Garamba is researching the potential of hydroelectricity and agro-forestry with support from the EU’s 11th European Development Fund. “We also get a bit of funding from the Kibali goldmine, and also looking at biodiversity offsets,” Barrett said.
Another aspect the park hopes to develop is tourism. Its biodiversity is a major draw, including the last population of the Kordofan giraffes in the DRC, but also elephants, buffalo, hippo, four kinds of primate and more than 260 bird species.
“Garamba is quite a quaint place on the banks of the river,” Barrett said. “But I don’t think we’ll ever get busloads of tourists – at least not for the foreseeable future.”
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This article was written by Sophie Lewisohn, with input from Capacity4dev's Editorial Team.