Congo’s Upemba National Park battles to preserve wildlife like the zebra and white elephant
A large savannah area adjacent to the DRC’s (Democratic Republic of Congo’s) massive rainforest region was once home to swollen herds of elephants, zebras, buffalo and antelope. It was known as a prime ivory area and, at its heart, the Upemba National Park was considered a jewel in the crown for African fauna.
Civil war and political strife, however, led to severe neglect for DRC’s protected natural areas and poaching for ivory and bush-meat expanded to the point of threatening the existence of many species. To try and turn this situation around, Alan Deverell is leading a Frankfurt Zoological Society project to rehabilitate Upemba as a functioning national park.
Home to a unique antelope species (the Upemba lechwe – Kobus anselli) which is on the IUCN’s Red List as critically endangered, the revamped park hopes to save this animal along with the white elephants, zebras, two endemic bird species and at least ten endemic amphibians.
“The rangers themselves were living in deplorable conditions,” explained Deverell. “Poorly paid and under-resourced, they had been abandoned to their own devices. Many had turned to poaching and other illegal activities in order to feed their families.”
While the threat of armed conflict with poachers is still present, the conditions for rangers have been improved dramatically as a starting point for improved conservation. Deverell claims that poaching is diminishing and more animals are returning: “the zebra, though common in other parts of east and southern Africa, are unique in Congo. While their numbers have been whittled down to 30 or so individuals, these numbers are on the increase due to the success of recent conservation efforts.”