Insecurity, conflict make conservation difficult in Congo's Garamba park

Chronic insecurity, regional conflict, tough terrain and isolation make Africa's Garamba park perhaps the most difficult place on the continent to practice conservation.

See Full Article

North-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where the park is situated, is a bad neighbourhood: South Sudan to the north collapsed in civil war in 2013, as did nearby Central African Republic a year earlier, while Congo itself is still plagued by armed groups including rebels, horseback raiders and renegade soldiers.

"This is one of the most trouble-ridden parts of Africa," said Chris Thouless of Save the Elephants, a conservation organisation. "Simply, Garamba's survival is an absolute miracle."

There is no doubt what is at stake: 40 years ago there were close to 500 northern white rhinos, more than 20,000 elephants and 350 giraffes. Today the rhinos have been wiped out, there are less than 1,500 elephants and just 38 giraffes.

When Pete Morkel first visited Garamba to put tracking collars on northern white rhinos in the 1990s, it was a different place.

"It was quite easy to see rhinos, there was a lot more elephant, a lot more hippo, just a lot more of everything," said the 55-year old Namibian vet.

In February he was in Garamba again to put radio tracking collars on elephants and giraffes, darting the animals from a hovering helicopter.

Stemming elephant massacres

Eight giraffes and 28 elephants now have collars enabling conservationists to monitor their every movement and park rangers to track their whereabouts.

The existence of the tiny Kordofan giraffe population, the last in Congo, is particularly precarious and special units are assigned to protect them.

When conservation non-profit African Parks took over management of Garamba in 2005, it was too late to save the northern white rhino, now the struggle is to protect what's left.

"Garamba is one of the toughest national parks in Africa today," said Erik Mararv, African Parks' 30-year Garamba manager who deploys rangers, soldiers, a helicopter and an aeroplane to monitor and protect 12,400 square kilometres (4,800 square miles) of forest and grassland from armed poachers.

"It's such a special area in such an unlikely place," he said.

The sky over Garamba is a full dome stretching between horizons, vaulting over an immense undulating dry season savannah of charred monochrome elephant grass, like bunches of porcupine quills, and scattered sausage trees, fat fruit dangling from rope-like stalks.

The landscape is tinder dry, cut through by lazily meandering rivers and pockmarked with old anthills.

Garamba was established in 1938, making it the continent's second oldest park after Virunga to the south.

Old black and white photographs are all that remains of a once famous elephant domestication programme. They show white men in pith helmets sitting on an elephant-drawn plough, or regal upon a horse in sparkling jodhpurs with elephants and locals lined up in neat rows on either side like a coronation scene from Jean de Brunhoff's cartoon "Babar".

Tourism in its infancy

In 1980 Garamba was made a World Heritage Site, but a quarter of a century later the rhinos the designation was intended to protect were gone.

Today the presence of vehicles and people is rare -- and because of poachers, sometimes deadly -- so the animals are skittish. Elephants quickly plod away in a cloud of dust; antelopes prick up their ears and pause before darting into the bush.

There are no tourists here but Mararv hopes that might change in 2017, helping make Garamba sustainable in the long run. He imagines a mobile tented camp out on the vast grasslands to complement the existing tourist lodge on the Dungu River.

The park costs around $3 million (2.7 million euros) a year to run, much of that donated by the European Union, so Mararv is considering other schemes to help fund Garamba, such as a hydroelectric dam on one of the park's many rivers -- all tributaries to the colossal Congo -- selling power to nearby mining operations.

But before any of that can happen the park must be secured. Although 2015 was a difficult year it was an improvement on the one before when some conservationists wondered if the park could survive.

"There's been a massive improvement in law enforcement within Garamba but elephants are still being killed at an unsustainable rate," said Thouless.

He manages the Elephant Crisis Fund, which was kick-started by a million dollar donation from actor Leonardo DiCaprio in 2014, and disburses emergency money to protect threatened elephant populations, including in Garamba.

Despite the years of turmoil and the continuing peril in which Garamba's animals survive, park authorities believe that a corner is being turned.

"I get such a good feeling about Garamba now," said Morkel. "There's discipline and focus. This is a functional park."



Advertisements

Latest Tech & Science News

  • Vancouver could become 'mixed reality' hub: Microsoft president

    Tech & Science CTV News
    VANCOUVER -- Microsoft president Brad Smith says Vancouver could become a hub for "mixed reality" or virtual reality technology that merges with the physical world. Smith says the estimated revenue for mixed reality video games, including both hardware and software, is expected to top $12 billion by 2025. Source
  • Canada relatively unscathed as cyberattack continues to spread

    Tech & Science CBC News
    As a cyberattack continued to spread among nations and corporations on Wednesday, the identity and motives of the attackers remain a mystery. Ports, hospitals and banks around the globe have been hit by a version of ransomware being called ExPetr, similar to Petya but with a different functionality. Source
  • How artificial intelligence is taking on ransomware

    Tech & Science CTV News
    NEW YORK -- Twice in the space of six weeks, the world has suffered major attacks of ransomware -- malicious software that locks up photos and other files stored on your computer, then demands money to release them. Source
  • Petya vaccine is a ransomware fix, but 'not a silver bullet'

    Tech & Science CTV News
    A defence has been found against the so-called Petya virus attempting to cripple Microsoft Windows-based networks across the globe, although experts say it must be applied to each computer individually and will not kill the bug altogether. Source
  • Carcass of right whale being towed to P.E.I. to determine cause of death

    Tech & Science CTV News
    NORWAY, P.E.I. - The Canadian Coast Guard and Fisheries and Oceans hope to beach a dead right whale on a Prince Edward Island shore today in an effort to learn what has killed at least six of the endangered mammals in recent weeks. Source
  • Canada's top court backs order for Google to remove firm's website from global searches

    Tech & Science CBC News
    The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld a B.C. court ruling that ordered Google to remove the website of a company from its global search results. "The appeal is dismissed and the worldwide interlocutory injunction against Google is upheld," wrote the court in its decision issued Wednesday morning. Source
  • New made-in-China navy destroyer launches in Shanghai

    Tech & Science CTV News
    BEIJING -- China's increasingly powerful navy launched its most advanced domestically produced destroyer on Wednesday, at a time of rising competition with other naval powers such as the United States, Japan and India. The first 10,000-ton Type 055 entered the water at Shanghai's Jiangnan Shipyard on Wednesday morning, the navy said in a statement. Source
  • Increasingly wild weather could lead to rising air travel costs

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Be prepared to pay more for airfare if climate change continues to alter weather patterns, increasing the frequency and severity of storms, say climate change and airline industry experts. Daniel Scott, a climate professor at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, said travellers should also expect more flight delays and cancellations amid recurring snowstorms, thunderstorms and bouts of freezing rain. Source
  • Cambodian conservationists find rare cache of crocodile eggs

    Tech & Science CTV News
    PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - Wildlife researchers in Cambodia say they've found a clutch of eggs from one of the world's most endangered crocodiles, raising hopes of its continuing survival in the wild. The New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society said Wednesday that its researchers, along with Fisheries Administration employees and local residents, had found six eggs of the Siamese Crocodile in the southern province of Koh Kong as they were exploring for tracks, signs and dung of the…
  • Found in Cambodia: Clutch of eggs from one of the world's most endangered crocodiles

    Tech & Science CTV News
    PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- Wildlife researchers in Cambodia say they've found a clutch of eggs from one of the world's most endangered crocodiles, raising hopes of its continuing survival in the wild. The New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society said in a statement Wednesday that its researchers, along with Fisheries Administration employees and local residents, found six eggs of the Siamese Crocodile in Sre Ambel District in the southern province of Koh Kong as they were exploring for tracks,…