The Salonga National Park, located in the Congo Basin and nicknamed the Green Heart of Africa, covers an area of 33,350 km², making it the largest national forest park on the continent and the second largest tropical forest park in the world. It was created in 1970 and classified as a World Heritage Site in 1984.
The park is the most extensive block of intact plain forest in the Congo Basin, accessible only by water or air. It is one of the 12 priority landscapes of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP), and forest covers nearly 95% of the park’s landscape. Salonga is bigger than Belgium and four times larger than Yellowstone Park in the United States. Named after the Salonga River, whose title is derived from a bird locally known as “Nsao’ loonga”.
Salonga is home to a very rich and varied biodiversity including 51 species of mammals, 129 species of fish and 223 species of birds. By way of illustration, this biodiversity includes forest elephants, bonobos, various species of antelopes such as bongo and duiker; giant pangolins and species such as Congolese peacocks, giant hornbill, great touraco, leopard, hippopotamus and many others. Several navigable waterways provide access to the park’s inner core. Despite the park’s enormous size and apparent inaccessibility, and the fact that it has been spared from civil wars and security problems, its wildlife has been profoundly affected by poaching over the past two decades. Indeed, elephant poaching has become a very lucrative enterprise in recent years, triggered by soaring ivory prices on international markets. Since 1999, Salonga has been on the list of World Heritage sites in Danger.
The WWF in Salonga
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has been working in Salonga since 2005, supporting the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) in the management of the park and in engaging with local communities to identify and develop alternative livelihoods. Since 2004, WWF has managed the Salonga Landscape program initiative funded by USAID primarily through CARPE (Central Africa Regional Environmental Program) and since 2013 through CAFEC (Conservation of Forest Ecosystems in Central Africa). These programmes bring together ICCN and several conservation NGOs and financial partners to preserve the ecological integrity of the forest wetland ecosystem. As the Salonga landscape is both a vital ecological refuge for the park’s biodiversity and an vital carbon sink recognized by the National REDD+ Strategy (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), the consortium’s activities focus primarily on the evolving climate change and biodiversity objectives, achievable through successful long-term park management and spatial planning.
In August 2015, WWF and ICCN signed a three-year co-management agreement for the Salonga National Park and its surroundings. The adoption of a long-term co-management structure was imperative to achieve evolutionary results, as previous investments and existing management structures proved insufficient for a real impact on continuing trends in ecological degradation. Funding from CAFEC will thus continue to support community development and essential park management, while increased funding from the EU (European Union) and KFW (German Cooperation) over the next few years will help recruit key personnel, improve infrastructure and logistics to ensure the protection of the park while ensuring people’s livelihoods in and around the park.