Marching forward for wildlife
In the build-up to World Wildlife Day 2017, the Nouabale-Ndoki National Park anti-poaching force gathered on the grassy lawn at the Park’s headquarters in Bomassa. The Congolese National Anthem was chanted as the modest troop of some 50 rangers saluted the flag’s ascent. The day marked an important step in the Park’s march to protect its forest elephants and the integrity of Ndoki’s World Heritage landscape.
Forest elephant numbers are plummeting in many protected areas across central Africa. In neighbouring Gabon, 80% of forest elephants have been lost over the last decade. Nouabale-Ndoki National Park has long been considered a stronghold for the species, but over the last year, the frequency of poaching incidents has increased, closing in on the Park’s borders.
Since the creation of the Nouabale-Ndoki Foundation and the appointment of WCS Congo as the Park’s management unit, some major advancements have been made towards protecting the Ndoki Landscape. Between 2013 and 2015, patrol coverage increased by 85%, now covering 72% of critical habitat in Park and its periphery. The added surveillance effort was mainly owed to a four-fold expansion of Ndoki’s ranger force. However, the arms race with poachers has been fierce. In 2016 the first poached elephant carcasses were uncovered within the Park’s border.
Since mid 2016, the Parks’ Management Unit have been focusing efforts on improving intelligence-led patrolling and professionalising antipoaching operations. To start the year, 2017, new ranger contracts, better pay, and new patrolling equipment have been issued – a reform which has been spearheaded by the formation of Units and a new system for planning the deployment of patrols.
Last Tuesday, this plan was set in stone and rolled out. The Park’s Ranger Units and Unit Leaders were officially recognised, and issued a new set of uniforms. The day culminated with a parade through the village of Bomassa, where hundreds of inhabitants joined the march in celebration. Several young people actually joined rank – some of whom were surely inspired to be the Park’s next generation of protectors.