2023 was the first year without elephant poaching in Republic of Congo National Park

A mother elephant is surrounded by two baby elephants in a body of water

Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo has a lot to celebrate.

The park, which celebrated its 30th anniversary on December 31 of 2023, also shared an exciting conservation milestone: 2023 was the first year without any elephant poaching detected.

“We didn’t detect any elephants killed in the Park this year, a first for the Park since [we] began collecting data. This success comes after nearly a decade of concerted efforts to protect forest elephants from armed poaching in the Park,” Ben Evans, the Park’s management unit director, said in a press release.

Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park was developed by the government of Congo in 1993 to maintain biodiversity conservation in the region, and since 2014, has been cared for through a public-private partnership between Congo’s Ministry of Forest Economy and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

An overhead view of the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park
Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park. Photo courtesy of Scott Ramsay/Wildlife Conservation Society

Evans credits the ongoing collaboration with this milestone, as the MEF and WCS have helped address escalating threats to wildlife in the region. 

This specifically includes investments in the ranger force, which has increased training and self-defense capabilities, making the force more effective in upholding the law — and the rights of humans and animals.

“Thanks to the strengthening of our anti-poaching teams and new communication technologies, we have been able to reduce poaching considerably,” Max Mviri, a park warden for the Congolese government, said in a video for the Park’s anniversary

“Today, we have more than 90 eco-guards, all of whom have received extensive training and undergo refresher courses,” Mviri continued. “What makes a difference is that 90% of our eco-guards come from villages close to the Park. This gives them extra motivation, as they are protecting their forest.”

As other threats such as logging and road infrastructure development impact the area’s wildlife, the Park’s partnerships with local communities and Indigenous populations in the neighboring villages of Bomassa and Makao are increasingly vital.

“We’ve seen great changes, great progress. We’ve seen the abundance of elephants, large mammals in the village,” Gabriel Mobolambi, chief of Bomassa village, said in the same video. “And also on our side, we benefit from conservation.”

A map of the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park
Photo courtesy of Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park

Coinciding with the Park’s anniversary is the roll-out of a tourism-focused website, aiming to generate 15% of its revenue from visitors, which contributes significantly to the local economy. 

Guests are encouraged to observe the wildlife in their natural habitats, including the elephants, “rubbing shoulders with buffaloes, spraying water, feeding, or measuring their strength between males,” per the Park’s website

Nouabalé-Ndoki also recently became the world’s first certified Gorilla Friendly National Park, ensuring best practices are in place for all gorilla-related operations, from tourism to research.

But gorillas and elephants — of which there are over 2,000 and 3,000, respectively — aren’t the only species visitors can admire in the 4,334-square-kilometer protected area.

A screenshot of the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park website
Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park's new tourism-focused website

The Park is also home to large populations of mammals such as chimpanzees and bongos, as well as a diverse range of reptiles, birds, and insects. For the flora fans, Nouabalé-Ndoki also boasts a century-old mahogany tree, and a massive forest of large-diameter trees.

Beyond the beauty of the Park, these tourism opportunities pave the way for major developments for local communities.

“The Park has created long-term jobs, which are rare in the region, and has brought substantial benefits to neighboring communities. Tourism is also emerging as a promising avenue for economic growth,” Mobolambi, the chief of Bomassa village, said in a press release.

The Park and its partners also work to provide education, health centers, agricultural opportunities, and access to clean water, as well, helping to create a safe environment for the people who share the land with these protected animals. 

In fact, the Makao and Bomassa health centers receive up to 250 patients a month, and Nouabalé-Ndoki provides continuous access to primary education for nearly 300 students in neighboring villages. 

Two people stand outside of the health center in Bomassa
Photo courtesy of Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park

It is this intersectional approach that maintains a mutual respect between humans and wildlife and encourages the investment in conservation programs, which lead to successes like 2023’s poaching-free milestone.

“The partnership between MEF and WCS has grown stronger and ensures the Park remains one of the world’s last truly wild spaces, and one of the few areas where populations of elephants and great apes have remained stable,” a press release said. 

Evans, of the Park’s management, added in the anniversary video: “Thanks to the trust that has been built up between all those involved in conservation, we know that Nouabalé-Ndoki will remain a crucial refuge for wildlife for the generations to come.”

Header image courtesy of J.Villioth/Wildlife Conservation Society

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