Conserving Congo’s only Community Reserve
Created in 2001, Congo’s only community reserve includes extraordinary biodiversity: the highest known local densities of gorillas in the world, large populations of chimpanzees, as well as the full range of other Congo forest creatures. The area is managed by the Ministry of Forestry Economy and Sustainable Development (MEFDD) in partnership with WCS Congo, through funding from USAID’s CARPE program. Commercial hunting and wildlife trafficking are currently the biggest threats to the areas wildlife. To tackle these threats, WCS Congo in partnership with the Government of Congo are recruiting and training rangers to patrol and protect the landscape and its wildlife. A core objective of this project is providing rangers with training on the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART) to collect data on patrol coverage, the extent of illegal wildlife extraction, as well as the distribution of wildlife in the area. This data then feeds back into the anti-poaching strategy of the area in order to better monitor and adapt law-enforcement activities, and intelligently patrol the landscape.
Recognizing the importance of wildlife law-enforcement, the paucity of ranger numbers and lack of proper law-enforcement training at the start of the project, the Lac-Télé management team aimed to both increase the size of the ranger-force and the efficacy of their activities. New rangers were recruited from the surrounding communities and trained on the use of the SMART tool, navigation (map reading and using GPSs) and received endurance training to prepare them for long patrols in the field and potentially dangerous encounters with poachers and wildlife. Information gained from monitoring the extraction of wildlife in the area was used to identify high risk poaching zones where anti-poaching efforts should be intensified. Checkpoints were also established on the landscapes transport routes so that vehicles on access roads could be checked for illegal wildlife products.
Some resource extraction is permitted within Lac-Télé, but people caught breaking wildlife laws are arrested and sent to trial. In 2016 seven wildlife criminals were sent to the courts and three individuals sentenced to three years in jail for their crimes.
At the beginning of 2014 the ranger-force protecting the Lac-Tele Community Reserve consisted of 7 people. The team was increased to 10 in 2015 and tripled in 2016. This expansion has allowed the team to carry out more patrols and increase patrol coverage. The rangers now patrol more efficiently as data collected using the SMART tool has allowed for the identification of high risk poaching zones. In 2016 100 cars and 150 canoes were searched, and 50 wire snares were discovered and destroyed. Of all the vehicles and boats searched only 6% were in violation of wildlife laws. So far this year over 650 kg of bushmeat was confiscated including 18 kilograms of gorilla and chimpanzee meat, both protected species that are illegal to hunt in Congo. Fifteen people were given a first warning for wildlife crimes, seven wildlife criminals were sent to trial and three sentenced to three years in jail for their infractions.
The team plans to continue to expand and improve the anti-poaching activities being carried out in the area. Awareness campaigns will be carried out to inform local communities about wildlife laws and the rangers’ role in enforcing these with the hope of fostering an understanding between the authorities and the communities on the sensitive issue of wildlife crime. A platform is to be created to encourage discussion between the authorities involved in fighting wildlife crime throughout the law-enforcement chain, from rangers on the ground to judges in the courts, to fight corruption at all levels and to analyze the enforcement of wildlife laws.