Rosalie Matondo, the Republic of Congo’s Minister of Forestry Economy; Henri Djombo, Congo’s Minister of State, and Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries; Arlette Soudan Nonault, Congo’s Minister of Tourism and the Environment; the U.S. Ambassador, Todd Haskell; and the Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS’s) Africa program, Tim Tear celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park – a stunning protected area, and World Heritage Site, that spans 1,621 square miles (4,200 square kilometers) of pristine lowland rainforest safeguarding some of Central Africa’s best-known wildlife.

The Nouabalé-Ndoki Park, formed between WCS, the government of the Republic of Congo, and the local communities, is arguably the most advanced and demonstrably successful conservation models of its kind in Africa.

For the last 25 years, the Congolese Ministry of Forestry Economy (MEF) and WCS have worked together, with other national and international partners, to ensure the protection of this natural sanctuary. The partnership began in the late 1980s, when conservationists from these two organizations first began exploring the area, documenting its wildlife and habitat. In 1993, the government of Congo recognized the importance of the Ndoki forest for biodiversity conservation and created the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park.

In 2014, the Congolese Government decided to delegate the management of the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park to a private foundation, the Nouabalé-Ndoki Foundation, a partnership between the government of Congo and WCS. Its primary goal is to ensure the sustainable management and financing of the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park, with a board of directors, including representatives from local communities, setting the overall strategy for the foundation and a park-management unit responsible for implementing activities on the ground.

The development of such a transparent framework for all major strategic and management decisions has ensured a high degree of accountability for all stakeholders, and has facilitated a notable increase in the effectiveness of on-the-ground conservation activities,” said Mark Gately, Director of WCS’s Republic of Congo Program.

Recently released survey results have shown that elephant and great ape numbers remain stable not only in the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park, but also in its periphery showing the effectiveness of the landscape approach to protecting wildlife. Every five years, over the past decade and a half, large mammals have been monitored by foot surveys on line transects across the Ndoki-Likouala landscape - a vast swath of forest in northern Republic of Congo. The latest survey estimated that there are still 3200 forest elephants in the park and another 6300 in its periphery, while there are an estimated 2200 gorillas in the park and 24000 in its periphery. Nouabalé-Ndoki has particularly high densities of chimpanzees with an estimated 3000 in the park and 5000 in the periphery. These results were also used in a WCS study that compiled data across Western Equatorial Africa and showed that far more gorillas exist than previously thought. The study confirmed that the forests of northern Congo are home to the largest stronghold of western lowland gorillas, with more than 60 percent of the world’s gorillas found here.

The management and protection measures implemented under the auspices of the Nouabalé-Ndoki Foundation are paving the way for what is being referred to as ‘frontier tourism’ – travel to some of Africa’s most remote and seldom visited destinations. Wildlife-based tourism has significant potential to generate new revenue streams for the support of protected area management, and the development of local communities living near to those areas. With its stable wildlife populations, intact forest, and the presence of natural forest clearings (‘bais’) in the area that provide extraordinary wildlife viewing opportunities, Nouabalé-Ndoki has much to offer.  Currently operating tourism at a small scale, the Nouabalé-Ndoki Foundation is investing in substantial scaling up of tourism activities to develop Nouabalé-Ndoki as a world class tourism destination that will contribute to Congo’s planned development of a green economy. A vision that is shared by the government and all its main international partners.

Already one of the biggest employers in this remote corner of Congo, planned tourism development will further boost local employment by the park through the creation of hospitality jobs and economic opportunities that arise as more tourists pass through the area. The Nouabalé-Ndoki Foundation is also focusing on a combination of strengthening community governance and capacity to manage hunting and fishing on community lands and waters, providing scholarships for higher education for local students and providing families with access to health services. During her address at the park’s anniversary celebration, Minister Rosalie Matondo highlighted the park’s work to support local communities,

Said Minister Matondo: “Jobs have been created for the benefit of the local populations and many young people in our country have also profited from internships and specialized training in the field of wildlife and protected areas, both at home and abroad, with a view to strengthening their capacity to intervene.”

These actions are helping to improve the wellbeing of rural families, secure the hunting and fishing life-ways and cultural identities of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities, and building a constituency for the park and wildlife conservation.

Today’s celebration was hosted by the U.S. Ambassador, and featured an exhibition of images showcasing the park's spectacular wildlife and scenery and the work undertaken by its staff.  A short film on the park was also screened at the event and will be broadcasted on national television channels.

Remoteness has long provided protection for the Nouabale-Ndoki National Park. However, in recent years the rapid encroachment of roads outside the park limits, along with a fast-growing peri-urban population and an escalating illegal global trade in ivory, has exposed the Nouabalé-Ndoki forest to unprecedented levels of poaching pressure on its doorstep. While the threats remain high, the efforts of the men and women who have worked for the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park over the past quarter century have successfully allowed the Park to retain its status as one of the last true wildernesses left on the continent. As we face worrying news on the health of our planet and the status of many of the species we share it with, the protection of intact forests like Nouabalé-Ndoki, which buffer against global climate change and safeguard endangered species, is crucial.  

The Wildlife Conservation Society’s long-term conservation efforts in northern Congo have been supported by many generous donors over the past three decades.  Today, funding for the Nouabale-Ndoki National Park comes from a wide range of donors, including (listed in alphabetical order) the Elephant Crisis Fund - a joint initiative between Save The Elephants and the Wildlife Conservation Network, in partnership with the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, European Union, Fondation Tri-National de la Sangha, Global Environmental Facility (GEF); The Wildcat Foundation; The U.K. Government Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT) Challenge Fund; United States Agency of International Development (USAID) - Central African Regional Programme for the Environment (CARPE); United States Department of State - Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs; United States Fish and Wildlife Service; United States Forestry Service. Leadership support for WCS's long-term conservation efforts in Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park was provided by Liz Clairborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation, the Arcus Foundation, and many others.