Robert Muir, a British biologist, has been appointed Provincial Director, and head of the new Upemba-Kundelungu Complex. M & B has met him.
Mining & Business: Can you explain what will be your new functions?
Robert Muir: My function is to build and lead a team that will be capable of rehabilitating Upemba and Kundelungu National Parks. We need to breathe life back into these parks that have suffered decades of neglect. Today, this network of contiguous Protected Areas have been brought together to form one complex that will be managed by a single team, including those responsible for the fight against poaching, community conservation, finance, tourism and communication.
M & B: Which are your main objectives?
RM: First of all, we need to implement a new management dynamic and professionalise the management, monitoring and protection of the Complex. We then need to build capacity on intelligence-led law enforcement and maintain an emphasis on the protection of the elephants, hippos, zebras and buffalos with the goal of zero loss. With improved capacity we will begin to recover invaded areas, close illegal mining sites and secure the two parks. We will then begin to restore the ecological integrity of the Parks through the reintroduction of wildlife. We want to build up a good prey-base before we reintroduce lions, cheetahs and wild dogs. Our long term goal is to reintroduce the black rhino after an absence of more than 60 years. We need to begin generating sustainable revenue to support the long-term management costs, and one of the best ways to do this is through tourism. The revenue will be shared with communities to support local development activities.
M & B: With regard to tourism, what do you intend to do? The current situation of the Congo does not encourage foreign tourists to visit the country.
RM: Initially, we will target local communities, those Congolese with a disposable income and Expatriates. We will build a number of safari camps in areas that will allow tourists to enjoy the incredible landscapes and waterfalls that can be found in both parks. To visit the parks, visitors can use their own vehicle, but later the park will provide its own. We have three airstrips, Kayo, Lusinga and Katwe, so tourists will also be able to visit by plane. Ultimately we hope to develop fly camping and foot safaris, horseback safaris, fishing safaris and birding safaris.
M & B: And how is this project to be financed?
RM: The German Development Bank KFW is financing 5 protected areas in the DRC and Kundelugnu will be the 6th. We will receive a total amount of 1.2 million Euros over the next 12 months, and expect the first instalment to arrive within the next few weeks. In the meantime, the Segré Foundation, Save the Elephants and Wildlife Conservation Network have been providing critical support to help protect the elephants, and we hope that the EU will also join our efforts.