Andrew Beck Odzala Trip Report-9

African Parks 2018 Annual Report: Odzala-Kokua National Park, The Republic of The Congo

African Parks is a non-profit conservation organisation, founded in 2000, that takes on the complete responsibility for the rehabilitation and long-term management of national parks and protected areas in partnership with governments and local communities. Our aim is to rehabilitate each park, making them ecologically, socially and financially sustainable long into the future, for the benefit of people and wildlife. At the close of 2018, African Parks had fifteen parks under management in nine countries, covering 10.5 million hectares (40,540 square miles) and representing seven of the eleven ecological biomes in Africa. This is the largest and most ecologically diverse amount of land under protection for any one NGO on the continent.

One of the areas which they protect is the Odzala-Kokua National Park, home to our Odzala Expedition which allows guests the opportunity to see Western Lowland Gorillas, Forest Elephants, Forest Buffalo and a host of interesting and unique primate species. Our 8 night adventure (1 Night in Brazzaville, 3 Nights at Ngaga Camp, 2 Nights at Lango Camp and 2 Nights Mboko Camp) explores the region in detail, aiming to give our guests the best possible opportunity at seeing and photographing the spectacular diversity of mammals, insects, primates and birdlife in the region. Activities will include Gorilla treks, forest walks, night time forest walks, canoeing, river walks, and game drives.

Below is an extract from African Parks 2018 Annual Report on the region.

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CONGO – Odzala-Kokoua was designated in 1935 making it one of Africa’s oldest parks. The park, which covers a vast 13,500 km2 , lies in the heart of the Congo Basin – the second largest rainforest in the world spanning more than 2M km2 across six countries making up 18% of the world’s remaining rainforest. Humans have occupied the area for over 50,000 years, yet it is still one of the most biologically diverse and species rich areas on the planet, and the basin delivers clean water, food and shelter to more than 75 million people. Odzala has around 130,000 people living in the periphery of the park, who survive off the natural resources the area provides. Because of limited opportunities in the region, bushmeat poaching remains a major threat, where 11,000 snares and more than 46 tonnes of bushmeat were seized over the year. This is a major concern for the parks wildlife, especially Odzala’s western lowland gorillas of which 10% of the remaining global population are found in the park. Odzala’s future sits precariously on the urgent need to unlock the park’s value to the surrounding communities who are the main stakeholders, and whose actions will determine if this park persists long into the future. This is why our focus in 2018 was a multipronged strategy of trying to protect the park from poaching with an enhanced eco-guard team and other law enforcement techniques, while rolling out several community projects from compensating for human wildlife conflict, to investing in sustainable livelihoods with farming projects and capacity building activities. Affecting human behaviour takes time, but Odzala’s future rests on our interventions, and ensuring that communities value, and therefore truly benefit from the parks existence.

BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION – Camera traps are an essential part of monitoring Odzala’s incredible biodiversity and over 350 GB of data, comprising 900,000 pictures and videos have been collected during the last two years. Initial results have shown important areas for elephant activity, and that up to three spotted hyena clans consisting of at least 20 individuals have been identified. This is the first time that a resident spotted hyena population has been recorded in dense, rainforest habitat. A white-legged duiker was recorded, which signifies a southern extension of the known current range of this species by nearly 70 km. Staff discovered 16 new forest clearings (or bais), bringing the number of bais mapped in the park to 133. The gorilla health-monitoring programme was also firmly cemented and over the year, Odzala staff conducted more than than 500 km of foot surveys to improve detection of disease outbreaks, and zero gorilla or chimpanzee carcasses were found. Around 150 gorilla faecal and urine samples were collected with 72 samples shipped to a German laboratory to be tested for various diseases and parasites. In addition, more than 20 faecal samples were provided to the ARC-SPAC research consortium for a continent-wide genomic study on gorilla populations. Four confiscated baby monkeys were taken care of by park staff and we plan to conduct a soft release in 2019. Funding was received to collar 25 elephants and 10 spotted hyenas in 2019 and lastly, we began a study to assess the impact of gold mining on areas around the park with initial results from water samples indicating that gold miners are using high levels of mercury.

11,000 SNARES AN D ALMOST 48 TONNES OF BUSH MEAT WERE CONFISCATED BY ODZALA’S ECO-GUARDS

LAW ENFORCEMENT – High-levels of poaching and thick forest cover mean that Odzala’s law enforcement efforts are both extremely challenging and yet critical. Rangers working in the park’s eastern sector dismantled a network of local and foreign poachers from Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Throughout the year, the park’s 110 eco-guards logged 15,983 patrol man-days. These intensive patrols resulted in 56 arrests, 25 convictions, over 11,000 snares removed and almost 48 tonnes of bushmeat seized.

Our team collaborated with the Congolese Army to train 28 new eco-guards who were deployed to the park’s eastern sector. Fifty eco-guards took part in refresher training on patrol safety and tactics; 15 attended advanced first aid training at the Lebango Eco-Guards Training Centre, and staff benefitted from annual medical examinations conducted by Congolese military doctors. Our canine unit consisting of three sniffer dogs and their handlers became operational in 2018. Based in Odzala’s eastern sector this unit will strengthen controls at fixed checkpoints and help with detecting illegal wildlife products. We also built a new fixed checkpoint in the north of the park and received 67 law enforcement rifles that were serviced and provided by the Congolese Army. COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT – As many as 130,000 people live around Odzala making community development and engagement crucial. In 2018, we continued undertaking a range of projects and regularly visited local communities. The farming project launched in 2016 yielded its first harvest, with the Community Development fund generating nearly $3,000 in revenues. These funds were used to create an initial two-hectare banana plantation. To mitigate human-wildlife conflict, the park’s wildlife damage insurance scheme paid out just under $19,000 in damage compensation to local communities. We continued raising awareness about national hunting laws by hosting meetings in local villages. In total, 907 individuals from five villages attended. Working with local associations linked to the Community Development Fund, park staff hosted a governance workshop where participants described financial and administrative issues before brainstorming mitigation strategies. A local development and capacity building workshop took place in Kelle where among its 150 participants were the Secretary General of Kelle District, the Secretary General of the Mairie, and members of local associations. The workshop was well-received, as evidenced by the fact that Kelle representatives asked the Fondation Odzala-Kokoua to organise additional workshops. Finally, members of Odzala visited 71 local associations to share the conclusions of the 12th Fondation Odzala-Kokoua board meeting.

PARK MANAGEMENT AND INFRASTRUCTURE DEVELOPMENT – We employed local contractors to upgrade and extend the southern sector base while commencing construction of a new research centre inside the park. Three new staff houses were built at headquarters, as well as a new law enforcement block containing an armoury for weapons and confiscations. Two new law enforcement tented camps were also constructed to strengthen operations. Staff cleared, graded, and compacted 11 km of road between Mbomo headquarters and Mboko, where one of the park’s tourism lodge is located. The five kilometre road leading to Dzebe Gorilla Habituation Camp was also cleared, and fallen trees were regularly removed from Odzala’s waterways to enable eco-guards to freely move about the park by boat. Three new vehicle and three additional boats were added to our fleet. Our first canine unit received a kennel in Odzala’s eastern sector, and staff constructed a new control post along the northern border of the park. TOURISM – Over the course of the year, new tourism opportunities were explored including identifying new lodge sites with four potential partners. The private tourism company operating two camps inside the park and one on its perimeter sold 1,435 bednights in 2018. This operator donated $34,040 (5% of its annual revenues) to our Community Development Fund. Together, park entrance and landing fees amounted to $25,653.

 

Objectives for 2019

Enter into a new partnership agreement with the Government of Congo

Redesign Odzala’s tourism & revenue generation strategy to ensure the park’s long-term success

Strengthen & optimise law enforcement capability & preparedness

Prevent elephant & gorilla poaching in the park

Develop a clear community development strategy

 

Andrew Beck

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