Democratic Republic of Congo Entrusts Two Reserves to Communities

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo, April 10, 2006 (ENS) - Legally recognized community conservation took a big step forward in the Democratic Republic of Congo last week when the government handed the care and control of two large nature reserves over to local community groups. Adjacent to one other, the reserves form a globally important biodiversity site inhabited by endangered Grauer’s gorillas, eastern chimpanzees, forest elephants, and okapi.

DRC Minister of Environment Anselme Enerunga signed two new decrees that legally gazette two large nature reserves, the Tayna Nature Reserve of 900 square kilometers, and the Kisimba-Ikobo Nature Reserve covering 1,370 square kilometers.

Enerunga

Minister of Environment Anselme Enerunga says DRC plans to increase the amount of its forested protected areas to 15 percent of the total national area. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
The two decrees will be accompanied by contracts in which complete management and the responsibility for protecting the two reserves is ceded by the government to the local people.

The contracts are signed between the DRC national wildlife and protected areas authority, known as the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) and two Congolese community nongovernmental organizations - the Tayna Gorilla Reserve Project, and RECOPRIBA, Bakumbule (Kisimba-Ikobo) Primate Reserve Project - representing the local customary powers in each region.

The reserves will serve as a biological corridor zone between two nearby national parks in the eastern part of the country.

ICCN is moving to meet an international challenge to gazette at least 15 percent of the DRC as officially designated protected areas, such as national parks and reserves. Currently, about eight percent of the country is protected.

The new decrees and accompanying management contracts will now officially bring the Tayna and Kisimba-Ikobo Nature Reserves into the ICCN protected areas network of parks and reserves, affording them more complete and longer lasting protection.

Local people acting as eco-rangers can become deputized by the government to bear arms to protect against poaching and the illegal wildlife trade.

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Forest elephant in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Photo by Michael Nichols courtesy WCS) (Photo courtesy WCS)
The addition of these two biodiversity reserves increases the size of the DRC network of protected areas and provides a model for the addition of other community managed reserves.

The initiative is led by the new ICCN General Director Cosmos Wilungula Balongelwa, who is exploring new approaches to protected area management such as community conservation.

“The development of these public-private partnerships and the inclusion of local communities in biodiversity management and protection is our attempt at ICCN to develop new partnerships and alliances,” says Balongelwa. “We see these as crucial to meeting the conservation challenges for our country in the 21st century.”

Mwami Mukosasenge, the president of the Board of Directors for the Tayna NGO, and the traditional chief for the Bamate Nation, says, “The reformulated decree for Tayna and the management contract with ICCN is an important event for our people. We can both protect our natural biological heritage on a local level while integrating this into our area’s needs for economic development.”

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Young gorilla at the Tayna Nature Reserve. (Photo courtesy Tayna Nature Reserve)
The community conservation of these reserves is an outgrowth of the work of the late American gorilla scientist Dr. Dian Fossey, whose efforts to protect the gorillas of Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park was dramatized in the film, "Gorillas in the Mist."

"The legal process for creating community reserves has taken years to develop and is a real synthesis between local stakeholders, and the Fossey Fund team providing technical and financial support," says Patrick Mehlman, Ph.D., vice president of Africa programs for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, based in Atlanta, Georgia.

"The process can now be modeled in other areas of the DRC, where local communities are showing strong interest in becoming stewards of their natural resources and biological heritage," Mehlman said.

The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International has been working with these and other community based reserves in DRC since 2001, at first under the auspices of the U.S. Congressional Gorilla Directive, administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development Office (USAID) of Natural Resources Management.

More recently the Fossey Fund has been working in partnership with Conservation International through the USAID Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE) and Conservation International’s Global Conservation Fund.

The Tayna Gorilla Reserve was previously operated as the first non-extractive, community protected area in DRC under a Ministry of Environment Decree signed in 2002.

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Map of the eastern DRC with the two newly gazetted community reserves outlined in red (Map courtesy Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International)
The Tayna group, including the Batangi and Bamate Nations, delineated this reserve and were providing protection for it and educating the local stakeholders even during the last civil war. In 2001, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International become their primary partners and infused funding to support their efforts.

In the Kisimba-Ikobo Nature Reserve, local communities and customary powers have been working on creating a completely protected, non-extractive integral zone since 2002.

They modeled their efforts after their neighbors in Tayna, and are members of Union of Associations for Gorilla Conservation and Community Development in eastern DRC (UGADEC), a federation of eight local NGOs intending to build community managed reserves.

The UGADEC federation was formed by eight projects, led by their customary powers in the traditional system of African governance, who wish to protect biodiversity in non-extractive integral zones, while at the same time developing their local economies in defined zones outside the reserves.

For the Kisimba-Ikobo Nature Reserve this is an historical event. Unlike Tayna, which had previously been operating as a protected area, but wished to strengthen its mandate, RECOPRIBA is receiving its first official recognition from the DRC central government.

Dieudonne Busanga, director of community development for the Fossey Fund, and also one of the reserve founders, rejoiced, “We have finally done it – created our community reserve. Now we have so much more work to do – we have to protect it and help our community emerge from their poverty.”