NEW YORK (21st December 2016) – The Kabobo Natural Reserve in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), one of Africa’s most biodiverse sites, had its boundaries formally approved today by the Provincial Governor of Tanganyika Province – a critical step in establishing and ensuring the effective protection of this important site. The move follows surveys made by WCS which identified this forest as being very biodiverse and with unique species for Africa. By DRC law, formal boundaries are needed to effectively work on the ground to protect the 570 square mile (1,477 square kilometer) reserve.

The Kabobo massif is one of the most biodiverse sites in Africa and to date 558 terrestrial vertebrates and 1,410 plant species have been documented. While visited in the 1950s by Belgian scientists who discovered the Prigogine’s black and white colobus monkey (a subspecies of the Angolan colobus) and the Kabobo Apalis (Apalis kaboboensis) a bird that is only known from here, civil war and insecurity from 1960 until 2007 prevented further work or its protection.

A survey made by WCS in 2007 discovered four mammal species new to science as well as three new plant species. Scientists believe there are additional new amphibian species, but these need genetic analyses.

The forest with the adjacent Ngandja Reserve and Luama Katanga Reserve is estimated to contain at least 2,500 chimpanzees as well as hippopotamus, elephants, and lions.

There are at least 34 globally threatened species and 110 species endemic to the Albertine Rift region, Africa’s most biodiverse ecoregion on the border of DRC, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda,” stated Dr. Andy Plumptre, WCS Senior Scientist who was involved with the surveys of Kabobo.

Following the biological surveys a socioeconomic survey was made which showed the importance of the forest and woodlands in people’s livelihoods as well as the desire to establish some form of protected area to maintain traditional lands for the people of the region as well as conserve cultural sites such as Mt. Misotschi.

In 2009 WCS started to work with local communities to explore options for conserving the region for the people as well as the wildlife. In an approach that is fairly unique in Africa, all of the local villages were visited and the results of biological and socioeconomic surveys presented and the results discussed.

The options for conserving the massif were presented to elders from every village including indigenous people such as the Batwa pygmies, during which it was agreed that protected areas would be established in South Kivu and Tanganyika provinces to ensure the conservation of the massif. Participatory mapping processes were subsequently made with each village to agree on where the limits of a protected area should be established and these have subsequently been protected by these people as the long process for formal establishment of a protected area took place.

Today, these communities and local government structures have formed a governance committee to participate in the co-management of the new reserve.  This co-management will help ensure sustainable resource use and community participation in conservation.  

Said Deo Kujirakwinja, WCS’s project manager for the Kabobo Massif region: “The proof of local community support for the Kabobo Reserve can be seen in the way the people have protected it over the past 6 years as increasing security has led to people moving to the area to settle and farm. If it wasn’t for this support we would have lost a large proportion of the reserve by now.”

Kabobo is now one of three adjoining protected areas that safeguard some 2,683 square miles (6,951 square kilometers). It joins the recently established Ngandja Reserve (1,223 square miles or 3,170 kilometers) in South Kivu Province and the adjacent Luama Katanga Reserve (889 square miles or 2,304 square kilometers), which was established in 1954 as a hunting reserve. These three protected areas represent the largest block of forest on the shores of Lake Tanganyika and provide an important watershed for this lake and protection for breeding sites for the lake’s fisheries. A conservation action plan was developed for this landscape by the provincial authorities of Tanganyika and South Kivu with community leaders and WCS’s technical support and funding is being sought to implement this plan at the moment.

Richard Kitangala, the Governor of Tanganyika Province in DRC, who signed the Provincial gazettment of the Reserve stated,”This is the first protected area to be established in the new Tanganyika Province, and I hope it will be the first of several to come”

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund, Rainforest Trust, the Arcus Foundation and IUCN SOS grants supported the surveys, consultations, and participatory mapping with local communities by WCS.