Wildlife Protection

Illegal and unsustainable exploitation of the Congo Basin's natural resources is the main threat to its biodiversity. Whether it is pangolin scales sold for use in traditional Asian medicines, parrot feathers used in black magic, or elephant tusks used for ivory trinkets, the threats to wildlife are numerous and growing. Protecting this wildlife therefore requires a proportional, responsive, and innovative approach, to not only detect and stop poaching, but also to anticipate and deter it.

For a long time, the geographic isolation provided a blanket of protection for the Ndoki forest and its wildlife. In addition, the creation of Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park happened shortly after the ban on ivory trafficking established by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 1989, which helped to slow down elephant poaching in the region.

However, in the late 2000s, the situation took a turn for the worse: the financial crisis, coupled with increased demand from Asian markets for ivory, and the increasing accessibility of the forest due to the creation of roads by forestry companies, caused a new wave of ivory poaching.

At the height of this new wave of elephant poaching in the early 2010s, the newly created Nouabalé-Ndoki Foundation public-private partnership, launched a new law enforcement strategy to respond to this threat. Since then, the number of Park rangers has increased by six times. The Park has invested in better training and better equipment, to support our rangers to address the increased threats. Recent data suggests that this has been successful – at the end of 2021, no illegal killing of elephants had been reported in the Park for six consecutive months, a period of tranquility unthinkable a few years before.
Today, the number of park rangers is approaching 100. A new dedicated law enforcement operations base is under construction, training courses in topics such as human rights and first aid are conducted at least annually, and operating procedures are being harmonized throughout the Ndoki-Likouala landscape. Multinational patrols with rangers from neighboring Parks in the Central African Republic and Cameroon are regularly conducted to limit transnational trafficking.

Poaching, however, continues to evolve and change. Poachers seem to increasingly focus on smaller game animals to supply growing urban centers of Central Africa with wild meat. Hunting techniques are also evolving, and game traps made of metal cables are multiplying at a frantic pace.

To address these developments, ranger training continues to expand, with an ever increasing emphasis on human rights, first aid, combat techniques, communications, and investigation procedures, to keep up with the changing landscape.

Operating in the rainforest presents particular challenges for Park rangers. Beneath the dense leafy canopy and thick understory poachers can easily conceal themselves. To overcome this challenge, the Park employs an intelligence-based approach to law enforcement, that combines information on the spatial distribution of poaching, the modus operandi of poachers and traffickers, and the location of key access points to the Park, to direct and target anti-poaching patrols to where poaching is most likely.

This intelligence-led approach is based on conservation technology that makes the work of our rangers more efficient:

  • Signs of illegal human activity in the Park are collected by patrols and analyzed using the Spatial Monitoring And Reporting Tool (SMART), which enables the mapping of threats and activities, facilitating trends to be spotted. The use of SMART, harmonized at the national level, also facilitates collaboration with neighboring protected areas;
  • The Park’s law enforcement operations room is also equipped with EarthRanger, a software solution that combines real-time data from ranger patrols, remote imaging, and various sensors to provide monitoring information to optimize anti-poaching strategies;
  • The installation of a VHF communications system (ongoing) provides real-time radio communication between all sites across the northern Congo landscape, linked to ranger units on patrol using portable man-kits.

In its law enforcement efforts, the Park can also benefits from a Counter-Wildlife Trafficking program that is active throughout the country. This program plays a critical role in identifying and dismantling the criminal networks responsible for elephant poaching and trafficking of ivory and other wildlife products in and around the Park, ensuring higher-level poachers and wildlife traffickers are brought to justice, and sending a strong deterrent signal to wildlife criminals.

Reducing poaching requires a holistic approach to create better conditions for people living in the region so that they do not have to resort to poaching. This requires first and foremost raising awareness of the importance of the ecosystems of northern Congo. The Club Ebobo, an initiative almost as old as the Park itself, launched by researchers with a passion for wildlife, works to transmit this passion to the younger generations in villages near the Park.

The Park can also count on initiatives working in its peripheral zone such as the WCS-implemented Sustainable Wildlife Management (SWM) project, which works throughout the Ouesso area, including villages near the Park such as Kabo. SWM aims to strengthen the institutional and legal framework related to wildlife use, raise awareness of the concept of sustainability, and develop adaptive management of natural resources in conjunction with income-generating activities.

In an even broader geographic area, another innovative WCS project based in Ouesso is working to develop the region’s poultry industry to increase the availability of domestic protein, support changing dietary habits, and thus relieve hunting pressure and unsustainable levels of harvesting on wildlife.