Largest forest national park in Africa and larger than Belgium
Almost 95% of the landscape is covered by forest.
The park potentially holds 40% of the world bonobo population.
Importance of the Park to DRC and the World
Dense swampy forest. Bird calls from a high closed canopy. Undulating rivers with sandy beaches on one side and trees and palms marking the edge of the water on the other side. Monkeys high up in the trees greeting passengers in pirogues. A large swarm of disturbed fruit bats hover over an island on the broad river. A fishermen greets from the other side of the National Park border. A small sitatunga antelope jumps into a little stream to get to the other side. A pair of hornbills crosses the sky. A palm-nut vulture circles the sky.
Salonga National Park is the largest protected area of tropical forest in Africa and the third largest forest national park in the world. To date, it remains one of the few areas in the world that is big enough for the evolution process to occur at a natural rate and remain relatively undisturbed by human activity.
Salonga is situated in the heart of the Congo Basin, south of the Congo River. It spans over 33,350 km². It consists of two large blocks (“north” and “south”) separated by a corridor of about 45 km wide . Its shape is reminiscent of human lungs. And really nature breathes here.
What do you hear? A monkey? A bird? An insect? Rain? A bat? A beetle? What do you see? Sunbeam? Glowing mushrooms in the night?
How many African monkeys do you know? Well, one of the most diverse primate communities found in Africa calls Salonga its home. There is the Golden-bellied mangabey (Cercocebus chrysogaster), Thollon’s red colobus (Piliocolobus tholloni), the Angola Pied Colobus (Colobus angolensis), Allen’s Swamp Monkey (Allenopithecus nigroviridis), the De Brazza’s Monkey (Cercopithecus neglectus) and the Black Mangabey (Lophocebus aterrinus). Salonga also harbors the Congo peacock, a majestic bird only found in the rain forests of the Congo Basin. And last but not least the bonobo, the enigmatic great ape known for their gentleness and its one of a kind female that dominates social life.
Until now we know of 51 species of mammals, 129 species of fish and 223 species of birds who live in the Park. Surely many more will be discovered in the future. Several of those species are internationally endangered, particularly the forest elephant and the bonobo. Other large mammals are the leopard, nine kinds of antelopes including the bongo and 5 duiker species, giant pangolin and the hippopotamus.
The large and vast forests sequester CO2 and regulate the climate and the rivers and swamps act as a sponge that feed into the majestic Congo River. The park is a reservoir for fish and antelopes and other wildlife used by communities living around the park.
Several species are internationally endangered, particularly the forest elephant and the bonobo.
The threats to wildlife in Salonga are mostly related to illegal hunting. Generally, Congolese law prohibits hunting in national parks. All hunting inside Salonga National Park is therefore forbidden and considered poaching. The hunting ban is generally not followed leading to a decline in animals. Salonga National Park counters this with law enforcement activities carried out by 300 rangers and active engagement and dialogue with the local communities.
An endangered world heritage site
Since 1984 the park has been listed as an UNESCO World Natural Heritage. Salonga National Park was awarded World Heritage Status because it “represents one of the very rare existing biotopes absolutely intact in central Africa. Moreover, it comprises vast marshland areas and practically inaccessible gallery forests, which have never been explored and may still be considered as practically virgin.” Also UNESCO argued that “The plant and animal life in Salonga National Park constitute an example of biological evolution and the adaptation of life forms in a complex equatorial rainforest environment. The large size of the Park ensures the continued possibility for evolution of both species and biotic communities within the relatively undisturbed forest.”
During the 23rd Meeting of the World Heritage Committee in 1999 Salonga National Park was inscribed into the List of World Heritage Site in Danger.
The committee decided to move Salonga National Park to the in-danger list because of the excessive poaching taking place at the time and the illegal encroachments. At that time, especially, elephant numbers dropped drastically. The park management at the time was not able to counter the heavy poaching attacks.
Remove Salonga from the List of World Heritage Sites in danger
In a mission in 2012 IUCN/ UNESCO outlined the steps which need to be taken to remove Salonga National Park from the List of World Heritage Sites in danger.
Since 2011 a number of steps were being taken to address the recommendations. Surely the biggest effort was the co-management agreement between WWF and ICCN which together with the generous support of donors and implementing partners is working tirelessly towards the removal of Salonga National Park from the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in danger.
Steps which need to be taken:
- Control the poaching by increasing regular patrols
- Work together with key stakeholders in the wider landscape surrounding the park to eliminate poaching and to organize regular dialogues
- Develop an anti-poaching strategy and mechanisms to monitor the progress
- Resolve conflicts around fishing grounds by clearly delineating the parks boundaries with participation of the local fishermen
- Derive a strategy in collaboration with the local people especially in the corridor between the north and the south block to ensure an ecological continuum
- Conduct an ecological monitoring to assess wildlife numbers and to inform the anti-poaching strategy