Thanks to Rainforest Trust donors and other supporters, the nearly 2.2-million acre Lomami National Park was officially declared by the Conseil de Ministres (Ministers’ Council) of the Democratic Republic of Congo, heralding a major breakthrough in establishing urgently needed rainforest protection with community support in the heart of the Congo.
On July 7, 2016, the Conseil de Ministres (Ministers’ Council) of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) officially established Lomami National Park, the country’s first national park in over two decades. Rainforest Trust supported local partner Lukuru Wildlife Research Foundation (LWRF) in working with local communities and governmental institutions to make the national park a reality.
While many parts of the Congo have suffered from decades of disastrous civil war, Lomami Basin has been spared much of this destruction due to its remote location. However, in recent years the area has been ravaged by criminal gangs of ivory poachers terrorizing both wildlife and local people.
The declaration of Lomami National Park not only provides fundamental protection for wildlife, but also brings much-needed security and stability to the region. At the request of indigenous communities and with the backing of the Congolese Army, trained and well-equipped teams of park guards will be deployed around the new park to stop criminal poaching and lawlessness.
“In a country where most funders have turned their backs because of decades of conflict, Rainforest Trust and our local partner have persevered. Countries like DRC are the very ones that need our support the most,” said Dr. Paul Salaman, CEO of Rainforest Trust.
“The declaration of Lomami National Park is coming at a crucial time as threats to its spectacular rainforests are rapidly accelerating.”
More than five times the size of Texas, the Congo Basin encompasses a mosaic of hill and lowland tropical forests, swamps and natural savannas that shelter an abundance of rare and endangered species found only in the DRC, including Okapis, Bonobos, Congo Peacocks and a newly discovered monkey, the Lesula. It is also home to African Forest Elephants, whose populations continue to plummet. The new Lomami National Park represents a vitally important refuge for elephants covering nearly 2.2 million acres – 50 times larger than Washington, D.C., and nearly equal in size to Yellowstone National Park.
Despite being the second-largest rainforest in the world, the Congo Basin ranks as the most under-protected rainforest wilderness left on Earth. After identifying mounting threats to the region’s wildlife – from poaching for elephant ivory to deforestation for timber and agricultural expansion – Rainforest Trust launched a massive campaign to support LWRF in the critically needed establishment of the new national park.
“This will be the first protected area in the DRC that was set up in a participatory manner and involved all levels of the community and administration, from village to province to national entity,” said Dr. Terese Hart, who has worked in the Congo’s rainforest for more than three decades and is the national administrator for Rainforest Trust’s local partner.
“It sets a new standard. It also sets a basis for moving toward an even larger protected area.”
Rainforest Trust is committed to establishing a well-trained park guard system to protect the area for decades ahead. Support and involvement of local communities will be crucial to managing buffer areas around the new park.
“Thanks to the bottom-up approach in the establishment of this park, the local community feels a real stake in the protection of this area and its wildlife,” said Salaman. “This strategy is absolutely fundamental for conservation to succeed. It is the only way that major protected areas will stand the test of time, allowing local communities to participate.”
Lomami represents a major step forward for the conservation of central Africa’s rainforest, providing permanent and secure protection for some of the planet’s most imperiled wildlife.
However, the efforts of Rainforest Trust and its partner do not stop there. Presently efforts are underway to create Balanga Forest Reserve beside the new Lomami National Park, ultimately extending protection across an area the size of Connecticut.
Other institutions and organizations that supported the creation of Lomami National Park include Arcus Foundation, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Wildcat Foundation and FCF. Rainforest Trust wishes to thank the hundreds of supporters who donated to make this project possible, including Edith McBean, Bernie Han, Hamilton Miller, Mystic Dreamer: Art for the Earth, Partnership for International Birding and an anonymous supporter.
About Rainforest Trust
Rainforest Trust is a nonprofit conservation organization focused on saving rainforests and endangered species in partnership with local conservation leaders and communities. Since its founding in 1988, Rainforest Trust has helped to save nearly 14 million acres of rainforest and other tropical habitats across over 20 countries in more than 100 project sites.
Header photo: Forest Elephants. Photo by CIFOR.