The Democratic Republic of Congo has the largest stretch of tropical rainforests within Africa, extending beyond 100 million hectares. The verdant eastern forests within the eastern part are astonishingly diverse among the handful of forest areas within Africa known to have made it through the ice age. Nearly 50% of Democratic Republic of Congo is protected by main forests that host a great number of large mammals that are almost extinct in other parts of Africa. For ages, Congo has had an amazing conservation potential and possesses a history of environmental concern. In 1925, the Congo became the very first country in the while of Africa to establish a national park, the Virunga National Park renowned for the protecting the endangered mountain gorillas. Out of the total Congo land area, 4% is a wildlife reserve and the Congo government (although historically unstable) aspires to expand the conservation areas to between 8 and 15% of this country. Although the laws in Congo are infamously weak, most of the reserves in the country are somewhat safe from human encroachment due to their inaccessibility.
Of all the protected areas within Congo, the most properly managed national park is Virunga National Park home to the endangered mountain gorillas. Virunga National Park covers a total area of 790 000 hectares and is comprised of an exceptional variety of habitats, which range from swamps plus steppes to snowfields of Mountain Rwenzori at an elevation of more than 5,000 meters, and from the lava plains to the wide savannahs on the inclines of the volcanoes. The park shelters mountain gorillas, about 20,000 hippos living in the rivers in addition to Siberian migratory birds which spend their winter there. The park is principally funded by fees accumulated from tourists who go to visit these mountain gorillas.
For some time the erratic political condition in Democratic Republic of Congo seemed to have in fact helped in the overall conservation of forests by discouraging any investment in wood-logging plus the development of infrastructure that would permit hauling of tropical timber. Consequently, this has made Congo a nation with a substantial potential for sustainable tourism development. In spite of this great potential the erratic political situation within the Democratic Republic of Congo plus its neighboring countries has somewhat affected the wildlife conservation. The forest plus the Wildlife are threatened by the numerous refugees fleeing the civil struggles in Rwanda plus Sudan. Among the national parks which have been significantly affected by running refugees is Garamba national park in which Sudanese refugees plus Ugandan rebel groups have constantly camped. Sadly, this led to a loss of more than Thirty one northern White Rhinoceros and approximately 230 Savanna Giraffes. In addition, Refugees are noted of hunting wildlife using automatic weapons as well as poaching of endangered species particularly for their body parts such as horns and ivory.
A number of conservation reports in addition indicate unsustainable effects of the earlier political hardship in Congo. In accordance with the World Wildlife Fund, Congo’s national parks, including Virunga, Okapi and Garamba Fauna Reserve, were endangered with collapse in the battling between Laurent Kabila’s Alliance of Democratic Forces and Mobutu Sese Seko. Apparently, anti-poaching plus conservation equipment were robbed. The population of northern white rhinos decreased from 31 up to 24, whilst a minimum of twelve mountain gorillas were killed. Furthermore, Forty four park guards were murdered and the population of hippos has dropped from 30,000 up to 3000 over the past 10 years. The Okapi Wildlife Reserve has been destroyed by refugee migrations in addition to raiding groups of militias. The Militias heavily ruined and stole the forest service equipment as well as poached wild animals living in the reserve, whilst refugees burned down trees for fire and even hunted game.
In spite of the above disheartening political situation, the political and overall security situation of Congo is normalizing and the government of Congo is encouraging tourism. Below are the main protected areas in which safaris can be conducted while in the Democratic Republic of Congo:
Parc National des Virunga
This national park consists of savannah grasslands, areas of volcanoes, riverine, forests, lakes and jungle habitats. It is amng the mst varied ecosystems on the planet and it’s the oldest national park in the whole of Africa. It covers an expanse of 12,000 sq kms (or 4,633 sq miles). The park can be reached from Goma by road or using a light plane. This park hosts just below half of the world population of 700 surviving mountain gorillas. Additional animals residing in the park are antelopes, baboons, buffaloes, chimpanzees, crocodiles, elephants, hippos, warthogs, hyenas, lions, jackals plus leopards, in addition to a wide array of birds. Pleasant accommodation is offered in the park in addition to observation camps found at Jomba, Bukima and Tongo Camp where you can observe the playful chimpanzees.
This reserve consists of a thick forest cover. It can be reached by roads connecting from Bunia or from Isiro. There is Basic accommodation offered and fortunately the park is open throughout the year. Initially called the ‘Station de Capture d’Epulu’, it was set up to capture and export wild animals to zoos all over the world.
Parc National de la Garamba
This savannah park stretches over an area of 400,000 hectares. It can be reached by road from Bunia or from Isiro or by a light aircraft normally from Goma. There is Basic accommodation inside the park. This park hosts different animals including antelopes, white rhinoceros, baboons, warthogs, buffaloes, lions, hippos, elephants, leopards and giraffes, plus a wide range of birds. There are also domesticated elephants on which visitors can enjoy rides. Such are only found in two places in the whole of Africa.
Parc National de Kundelungu
This Park consists of riverine, grasslands and forest habitats. It can be reached from Lubumbashi by road and there is basic accommodation offered to tourists within the park. It is habitat to various animals including antelopes, zebras, baboons, warthogs, hippos, leopards and lions among many others.
Parc National de Maiko
This dense tropical rainforest is reported to host the eastern lowland gorilla.
Parc National de L’Upemba
This savannah park lines River Lualaba and includes a number of lakes. It can be reached from Lubumbashi by road or light plane normally from Lubumbashi. There is Basic accommodation in the park. It is home to various animals such as antelopes, zebras, baboons, warthogs, crocodiles, leopards, lions and hippos, in addition to a number of water birds. Parc National de Salonga
This Park is home to the pygmy chimpanzees.
Parc National du Kahuzi-Biega
This park cnsuiists of thick forested mountains plus high savannah, and can be reached by road from Bukavu or from Goma. There is Basic accommodation inside the park. This park was set up to protect the highly endangered eastern lowland gorilla (gorilla gorilla beringei). Additional animals found in the park include: elephants, buffaloes, chimpanzees and the eastern lowland gorillas.
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