A Big Win for Conservation in DRC - Lomako Yokokala Faunal Reserve Officially Gazetted

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(Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo) - About 15 years after a process was initiated to create a Protected Area for the conservation of one of the world's best studied bonobo populations, the Ministry of Environment and Conservation of Nature, Waters and Forests has announced today the gazettement of the Faunal Reserve of Lomako-Yokokala.

This new 3,625 sq km Faunal Reserve is not only important for the protection of an important population of our closest relatives, the bonobos,it also harbours critical populations of the endemic Congo peacock, golden cat, giant pangolin, and about 10 species of primates, among other key species. The bonobos that live in this reserve have become increasingly famous since the 1970's through the scientific research projects of American, German and Belgian research institutes in the area. The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), an international conservation organisation working across Africa and headquartered in Kenya, has been supporting ICCN through the gazettement process, and is now committed to supporting the implementation of a participatory management plan including the development of scientific tourism as a major source of local income.

In its National Strategy for Nature Conservation, the DRC government is committed to increasing the total protected area from 8% to 15% of its national territory. Consistent with his goal, the ICCN has identified the Lomako-Yokokala forest as one of the potential areas to be protected.

In 2004 the African Wildlife Foundation initiated the Maringa Lopori Wamba landscape project, financed by USAID through the Central African Regional Program for Environment (CARPE). The strategic objective of this project is to reduce the destruction of habitat and loss of biodiversity through better governance of natural resources on a local, regional and national level across the entire landscape, of which the new Reserve is a part. AWF operates in close partnership with MECNEF, the Ministry for Rural Development and the Ministry of Agriculture, and supports ICCN to implement its program according to the strategic document for nature conservation.

In consultation with ICCN and the local populations, AWF has undertaken biological and socio-economical surveys as part of the process of evaluating the creation of the new Reserve. Surveys confirmed rich biodiversity and a socio-economical feasibility for the sustainability of the reserve. The local communities expressed their positive interest on condition of maintained mutual respect and involvement in the process. AWF has facilitated the creation of an initial Coordination Committee headed by ICCN with representation from local communities. In October 2005, AWF disseminated a map with the digitized proposed limits of the Lomako-Yokokala Faunal Reserve and in May 2006, facilitated a final mission to consult representatives of the local communities. Finally, on June 28, despite electoral duties, Minister Enselma Enerunga signed the Arret Ministeriel 2006 to create the "Reserve de Faune de Lomako-Yokokala" or "RFLY."

AWF and ICCN do not consider gazettement as the end of the process. The real work on the ground is now just beginning. AWF has helped secure funding for key activities including a commitment from the Abraham Foundation to fund a first year "monitoring of the population of large mammals and of human activities" supervised by Mr. Belembo, ICCN, with technical assistance from AWF. Last week a new funding commitment from the "Fond Francais pour l'Environnement Mondial" was announced which ensures three-year funding for the participative and innovative management of the LYFR and its southern periphery. The ARCUS Foundation has also committed funding for the creation of an "in situ" research station to support on-going applied conservation research efforts related to bonobos and simultaneously support opportunities for cutting-edge scientific tourism. Anticipated continuation of funding of USAID/CARPE 2007-2011 will help ensure that the LYFR will be a sustainably managed biodiversity area and will contribute significantly to local development and poverty reduction goals in the Maringa Lopori Wamba Landscape.