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The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has the largest extent of tropical rainforests in Africa, covering more than 500 million acres, 60 percent of which is primary forest and more than 80 percent of which is totally unprotected. These forests are home to diverse flora and fauna, encompassing 11,000 species, including several globally threatened and endemic mammals such as the Grauer’s Gorilla, Eastern Chimpanzee, Okapi and Grey Parrot.
In October 2016, the Grauer’s Gorilla, a subspecies of Eastern Gorilla and the world’s largest primate, was up-listed to Critically Endangered by the IUCN. At that time, researchers revealed that about 3,800 Grauer’s Gorillas remained in the wild. An estimated 1,100 individuals (almost 30 percent of the total population) reside within unprotected Oku forests. These forests are also a stronghold for the Eastern Chimpanzee, which is listed as Endangered. Its eastern population has diminished by 40 percent over the last 20 years.
Rainforest Trust, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) DRC and local Congolese partner Réserve des Gorilles de Punia (RGPu) seek $1,150,697 to create the Oku Wildlife Reserve and four adjacent community-managed Local Community Forestry Concessions in the buffer zone. This protection will encompass more than 1 million acres.
Oku Wildlife Reserve, Congo Basin, Democratic Republic of Congo
Price per Acre:
Grauer’s Gorilla (CR), Eastern Chimpanzee (EN), Grey Parrot (EN), Okapi (EN), African Forest Elephant (VU)
lowland and montane forest
Timber extraction, agricultural expansion, pet and bushmeat trade, road construction, mining
Establish the Oku Wildlife Reserve and four Local Community Forestry Concessions
Wildlife Conservation Society DRC and Réserve des Gorilles de Punia
Total Carbon Storage (Mt CO2):
The Oku forests are 96.6 percent primary forest, with 2.6 percent secondary forest and less than 1 percent non-forest.
These are located in one of the most isolated and undisturbed forests in the DRC, and the abundance of land and wildlife is a strong factor in why the Critically Endangered Grauer’s Gorilla population decreased only 10 percent in the last 25 years compared to a global average species decline of over 80 percent. This overall species decline is why it is critical to save this forest and protect the Grauer’s Gorilla stronghold. In 2016, the partner conducted a month-long wildlife survey in the Oku forests. Nine primate species were recorded, including Grauer’s Gorillas, Eastern Chimpanzees, Owl-faced Monkeys and l'Hoest's Monkeys. These surveys also revealed high populations of Endangered Forest Elephants and ungulates including buffalos and Bongos. Survey teams identified 12 endemic bird species, including Bedford's Paradise-flycatcher, Regal Sunbird, Rwenzori Batis and Rwenzori Turaco. The teams also found numerous endemic plant species, as well as amphibians and reptiles which potentially are new to science and are in the process of being genetically identified.
The largest threat to unprotected Oku forests is deforestation for timber and agricultural conversion, while the additional threat that comes with the building of roads and infrastructure exacerbates this deforestation.
Unregulated and increased infrastructure in this region risks opening the forest to timber extraction, facilitating the mining boom and major influxes of people pursuing financial opportunities linked to mining. Hunting is an additional threat that is also largely driven by the presence of illegal mines (such as for gold, tin, tungsten and tantalum). These mines can attract, and are often commandeered by, armed militias. Miners and militias hunt wildlife for commercial bushmeat and the pet trade, but also as food sources for themselves as there are rarely alternative protein sources available. Establishing a protected area and establishing land-use management systems will help decrease these threats.
In 2006, clan leaders created an informal ‘community reserve’ to protect their forests.
There are no villages located within the proposed reserve. The 35 villages around the proposed reserve are members of 25 traditional clans each with a designated leader who acts as the overall landowner of the clan. Population density and growth are low and obtaining new land is done through an agreement with the clan leader. The local population consists of the Bantu indigenous population that has a strong tie to the forests and their conservation. Livelihood activities are predominantly subsistence agriculture and fishing, with less than 25 percent of people engaged in mineral exploitation and hunting. In 2006, clan leaders created an informal ‘community reserve’ to protect their forests. They were motivated to secure land and resource use rights as well as protect their ancestral lands. Rainforest Trust’s Congolese partner, Réserve des Gorilles de Punia, was formed to support this local initiative in collaboration with WCS-DRC. To date, and with support from WCS, the concept for a formal protected area was presented, discussed and received strong support. Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) has already been well integrated into the DRC’s 2014 conservation law through a formal well-defined process. With support from Rainforest Trust, the formal consultation process for the Oku Wildlife Reserve will follow DRC laws and ensure best practices are utilized. The consultation process will pay considerable attention to the inclusion of every stakeholder group. Given the support expressed to date, our partners do not anticipate any resistance from stakeholders for the creation of the Oku Wildlife Reserve.
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