On July 19th 2016, the Lomami National Park took its place as Congo’s 8th national park, the first in more than forty years.
This gold nugget surfaced from the travail of many, long collaborations. The real debate started in the villages – under leaf roofs, in empty schoolrooms, or open-air churches.
High chiefs discussed with village chiefs and hunters coming from afar argued with hunters who lived nearby.
There were traditional ceremonies; the ancestors were consulted.
The Congolese Nature Institute (ICCN) said a park was needed. In 2010 the villages of the southern sector of the park accepted the park; in 2011 the villages in the north accepted the park.
The park itself is 8,874 km² of uninhabited forest with islands of savanna in the south, hills in the west, and the great natural highway of the Lomami River wandering up towards a northern junction with the Congo River.
By 2013 the area was locally delimited and the governors of both provinces, Maniema and Orientale (now Tshopo) had created provincial parks — no hunting permitted — to protect the animals until a single national park was declared.
Curious bonobos interested in camera trap
Last week the Lomami National Park was approved by the President, Joseph Kabila, and then signed into existence by the Prime Minister, Augustin Matata Ponyo. Two weeks before that the Minister of Mines declared the entire park area to be concession-free as well as its periphery for a radius of 50km.
But why make a National Park? Explorations started in 2007. The Lukuru Foundation’s TL2 project found Congo’s great ape, the bonobo, farther southeast than they were known to exist; Congo’s rainforest giraffe, the okapi, was also found on the west bank of the Lomami.
Male and Female peacock in front of camera trap
Congo peacock were throughout the area and a new species of monkey was discovered, the Lesula (Cercopithecus lomamiensis).
Lesula, the recently discovered ground monkey, is intrigued by the smell of the camera trap.
Recently the field teams uncovered on the right bank of the Lomami several populations of the dryad monkey, locally called Inoko (Cercopithecus dryas), that was previously known only from a single small area 400 kilometers further west.
The Lomami National Park has more of the large charismatic animals that are found only in Congo, than any other protected area in the country.
Only the legs, tail and trunk of adult elephants are seen close to the camera trap, but a young one is seen at head level.
The Lomami is also the critical central Congolese refuge for the threatened African Forest Elephant. Even before the national park was created the battle to protect these forest giants was constant.
Without adequate park guards, the TL2 teams worked with military, often to control criminal militias who worked with other corrupt military.
Now: with the National Park decree signed the bulwarks for protection will strengthen. German aid to the parks (KfW) has said it will further increase the park guard force, equip the guards and build guard posts. Their help will be another important collaboration.
Now: TL2/Lukuru teams continue unabated their work inside the National Park – monitoring of bonobos and elephant, camera trap surveys, and surveillance.
But TL2/Lukuru must continue to increase outreach in the buffer zone. Activities like fishponds and small projects requested by the communities must expand.
Collaboration with the communities must be strengthened to build the ramparts around the national park: community hunting reserves, community based forest protection.
Most forests around the Lomami National Park are still rich in animals. Villagers want to be able to manage these to allow successful hunting for the long-term. Possible, but no small challenge.
All the activities that led up to this park and are now building it towards its potential — were supported by some dedicated funders who not only support the work on the ground, but have often provided guidance at critical times. Many thanks to : Arcus Foundation, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Wildcat Foundation, FCF (an anonymous funder), Rainforest Trust, Abraham Foundation, Elephant Crisis Fund, Woodtiger Fund…and others. Some key individuals have been particularly responsive at tight moments: Nancy Abraham, Edith McBean and others.