Once a refuge to huge populations of forest and savanna elephants, chimpanzees, bongos, and elk — as well as increasingly rare big cats like leopards and lions — the Mbomou-Uele region along the Democratic Republic of Congo’s northeast border is now a shadow of its former self having lost swathes of biodiversity over decades-long civil war. Violent militias infiltrated the remote landscape encompassing the Bili-Uele Protected Area Complex, Garamba National Park in DRC as well as the Chinko reserve in eastern Central African Republic. As they wreaked havoc on villages near these protected areas and displaced thousands of people, the heavily armed rebels also decimated species for the illegal wildlife trade.
Lakica Diana never dreamt that her passion for wildlife would translate into a career allowing her to protect some of Uganda's most vulnerable species. For the past nine years, she has lived in the Murchison Community Conservancy, near Uganda’s famed Murchison Falls National Park — growing increasingly fond of its wildlife, and even developing a hobby of drawing her favorite animals. The elephant, despite being one of the more frequent ‘visitors’ to her homestead, is still her best-loved muse. Since April 2019, Diana leads the team of community wildlife scouts securing the conservancy. The 21-year-old head scout has broken the mold to seek out a life she could hardly have imagined, especially when she was a young girl doing household chores, and even after the birth of her daughter when she was 18.
As building blocks for protecting critical wildlife habitats, national parks, reserves, and other protected areas are ecological havens and recognized for their contributions to poverty alleviation, water security, and carbon sequestration. They also provide opportunities for economic development and disaster risk reduction as well as a means of delivering nature-based solutions to climate change. And while recent reports from Africa highlight the strides that African governments have made in designating protected areas, there remain challenges.
Youth are the largest demographic on the African continent — more than 75 percent of the total population is under 35 years. The priorities and behaviors of Africans between age 18-35 must shape the way Africa develops as this group remains vulnerable to risks from sociopolitical instability and the ongoing climate crisis.
For generations, hunter-gatherers have used the trees and plants in Cameroon’s dense tropical forests to sustain their community. Like many indigenous people around the world, their relationship with these biodiversity-rich forests is not exploitative. In the villages neighboring the Dja Biosphere Reserve in south-eastern Cameroon, women are using their ancient botanical knowledge to build sustainable enterprises from non-timber forest products.