Kahuzi-Biéga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo
The Kahuzi-Biega National Park (2°30'S 28°45'E?) is a World Heritage Site located in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DCR). A wide expanse of primary tropical forest in two zones: high mountain range and a wide area of low mountains, the range dominated by two extinct volcanoes, Mts Kahuzi and Biéga. The Park had a diverse and abundant fauna with a population of eastern lowland gorillas: 258 of these lived in the high mountains between 2,100 and 2,400 meters (m); thousands more lived in the less accessible western extension. But disaster has overtaken the Park.
Threats to the Site
The World Heritage Committee placed the site on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1997. It was badly affected by the influx of Rwandan refugees in 1994 and rebel soldiers from 1997. Park facilities were looted and destroyed and many staff fled. But DRC produces 15% of the world's coltan, a valuable industrial mineral. From 2000, a price rise, rebel militias and lack of central government control created gold-rush conditions, the profits funding the rebellion. Airstrips and dozens of mines were started, attracting more than 10,000 miners to the park which led to massive hunting for bushmeat and ivory, drastic deforestation and social destruction, abandoned farms and schools, epidemic AIDS and ruthless control by well armed gangs. Most profits go abroad. By 2001, the population of gorillas had dropped from some 8,000 to about 800, of elephants from some 3,250 to zero, all other edible wildlife had diminished, the ecosystem had been plundered and the park became too dangerous to visit. That year IUCN, the UN and UNESCO responded with a promise of funding to the many pleas from the Park staff and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for help to staunch the destruction and begin to restore morale and order.
In the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo 30 kilometers (km) west of the Rwandan border. The eastern section is in the Mitumba Mountains west of and parallel to Lake Kivu. The western section in the Congo basin is connected to it by a narrow corridor. The park entrance is at Tshivanga in the east. The boundary is unmarked in many places. Its location is between 1°36' - 2°37'S and 27°33 '- 28°40'E.
Date and History of Establishment
- 1970: Gazetted by Decree 70-316. Part of the area had been a reserve since 1960;
- 1975: Enlarged from 75,000 hectares (ha) to 600,000 ha by Decree 75-238.
600,000 ha : Mitumba Mountains (60,000 ha), Congo basin mountains (525,000 ha), corridor (~15,000h a).
Government; in Kivu province. Administered by the Institut Congolais (formerly Zairois) pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN). Temporarily under Rwandan rebel army control.
Mitumba Mountains: 1,800-3,308 m; lowland mountains 700-1,700 m, mean elevation: 1,500 m.
The Park consists of two geomorphic units: rift valley volcanic mountains and Congo basin low highlands. The east is part of the Mitumba massif, the west side of the western Rift Valley. It is late Tertiary or early Quaternary with two extinct volcanoes, Mount Kahuzi (3,308 m) and Mount Biéga (2,790 m). The western extension in the Congo basin consists of mountains below 1,500 m cut by the deep valleys of some of the upper tributaries of the Luka and Lugulu rivers which drain into the river Lualaba, with isolated peaks such as Mount Kamani (1,700 m). A connecting belt between the two zones is in rolling terrain. Throughout the park there are surficial deposits of gold, cassiterite (a tin ore) and 15% of the world’s mined coltan (columbite-tantalite) ore of a high grade which, in 2000, fetched very high prices as a component of computer and mobile phone capacitors.
In the high eastern mountains, there are six primary vegetation types varying with elevation: mountain rain forest, bamboo forest, swamp forest, high-altitude rain forest, sub-alpine heather and peat bog. The western mountain section is lowland equatorial rain forest between 700 and 1,200 m, with transitional forest between 1,200 and 1,500 m.
The mountain rain forest grows between 1,000 and 2,000 m. From 900 to 1,350 m co-dominants are Michelsonia microphylla and Gilbertiodendron dewevrei and from 1,350 to 2,000 m Pentadesma lebrunii and Lebrunia bushaie. After disturbance the latter becomes open Hagenia abyssinica and Neoboutonia macrocalyx forest with Hyparrhenia savanna and Imperata meadows. Other dominant species are Albizia gummifera, Parinari excelsum and Chrysophyllum gorungosanum. The highland rain forest growing above 2,000 m is characterized by Podocarpus usambarensis, Chrysophyllum longipes, Ficus sp., Parinari sp., Carapa grandiflora and Symphonia globulifera. Clearings are invaded by Lobelia gibberoa. Swamp forest grows in poorly drained areas, dominated by Syzygium rowlandii, Podocarpus usambarensis, Agauria salicifolia, and Anthocleista grandiflora. Bamboo Arundinaria alpina forest grows between 2,350 and 2,600 m. It has spread by colonizing cleared land and covers approximately one-third of the original eastern park zone.
On level land between 2,000 m and 2,400 m swamp and peat bogs occur. They are dominated by Cyperus latifolius with C.aterrimus or Hypericum lanceolatum, Alchemilla cryptantha, Anagallis angustiloba and Jussiaea repens. The peat-bog is formed of Juncus effusus with Spagnum rugegense. Above the tree line at about 2,600 m, the vegetation is subalpine. Heather Erica rugegensis is characteristic, with Vaccinium stanleyi and Breutelia spp. on the summit of Mount Biéga. On one summit of Mount Kahuzi Hedythrsus thamnoideus and Disa erubescens grow; on its main summit, between 3,200 and 3,308 m, Erica spp. grow with Senecio kahuzicus, Helichrysum mildbraedii, Huperzia saururus and Deschampsia flexuosa. 48 species with 2 unknown and 24 endemic species are found in the park. The western lowland equatorial forest can be characterized as Michelsoni - Gilbertiodendron forest below 1,350 m and Pentadesma - Lebrunia forest above it.
A preliminary species lists gives 194 species of mammal living in and around the Park but the section in the Mitumba mountains was first established to protect its 200-300 eastern lowland gorilla Gorilla g. graueri (EN), the largest subspecies of gorilla, which lives in the forests there between 2,100 and 2,400 m. Many more live in the lower rain forest. It is endemic to the D.R.C.and 86% of the population, some 14,500 animals, lived in Kuhuzi-Biega and the adjoining Kasese forests. The mosaic of biotypes makes the park excellent gorilla habitat. In the eastern section of the park 223 animals were counted in 1979 (14 families and 5 solitary males); in 1990 there were 258 (25 groups with 9 solitary males) and a 1996 census showed almost the same. But in February 2001 only 96 of these mountain-based gorillas remained. In the western area 90% of the 8,000 gorillas have probably been destroyed by bushmeat hunters for the thousands of laborers who work in the mining camps and by the armed militia for sale. Other primates also freely taken for food include eastern chimpanzee Pan troglodytes schweinfurthi (EN), Anubis baboon Papio anubis and ten species of monkey: five Cercopithecinae and three Colobinae species. Most are found in the western section.
Other mammals include forest elephant Loxodonta africana cyclotis (EN), estimated at 3,250 individuals in 1989, now reduced for their meat and ivory from 350 to 2 families, hippotamus Hippopotamus amphibious, forest buffalo Syncerus caffer nanus, leopard Panthera pardus, forest hog Hylochoerus meinertzhageni, bongo Tragelaphus euryceros and seven species of duiker, all taken for food. Endemic mammals include east central African red colobus Colobus badius rufomitratus, Rwenzori black and white colobus C. polykomus ruwenzorii, owl-faced monkey Cercopithecus hamlyni kahuziensis (LR), eastern needle-clawed galago Galago inustus, giant genet Genetta victoriae, aquatic civet Osbornictis piscivora (DD), mountain tree squirrel Funisciurus carruthersi, Alexander's bush squirrel Paraxerus alexandri (LR), Ruwenzori least otter-shrew Micropotamogale ruwenzorii (E) and Maclaud's horseshoe bat Rhinolophus maclaudi (LR).
A preliminary list of the avifauna gives 224 species including 42 endemics, 75% of the endemic species of the Central Highlands. Among these are the Ruwenzori tauraco Musophaga johnstoni, Sassi's olive greenbul Phyllastrephus lorenzi, Bedford's paradise flycatcher Terpsiphone bedfordi, Lioptilis chapini, Grauer's green broadbill Pseudocalyptomina graueri (VU), Rockefeller's sunbird Nectarinia rockefelleri (VU), Grauer's warbler Bradypterus graueri (VU) and Shelley's crimsonwing Cryptospiza shelleyi (VU; also the Congo peacock Afropavo congensis. Bird species are given in Steinhauer-Burkart et al.which also lists 48 species of reptile and 31 amphibians, and in Musiti et al.
No information is available except on the pygmies, the forest aboriginals, whose life continues to be based on hunting and gathering, and the exchange of game for cereals grown by forest margin cultivators to balance their diet. They continue to hunt in the Park.
Local Human Population
The Park is in one of the most densely populated areas of the country, with over 300 people per square kilometer (km2), some 90% of whom depended mainly on agriculture. Seven separate tribal groups, originally some 9,000 people, lived in and around the park including the Baregha, Batembo and Bashi peoples. Slash and burn farming and tea-growing occurs on the forest margins. Banana beer is locally important, and the demand for land for banana plantations is high, as it is also now for cattle raising. Fifteen existing villages of shifting cultivators, and mining settlements for gold, cassiterite and coltan were located in the west section of the Park, though neither they nor the indigenous pygmies were consulted when it was created; and several villages in the buffer zone, where the boundary had never been defined, were sources of conflict.
The drastic effect of the refugee influx and the Rwandan Interahamwe and Congolese Mayi-Mayi militias on the wildlife and forests of the Park increased disastrously in 2000 with a brief ten-fold increase in the world price of coltan. This created a gold-rush of thousands of peasant miners who abandoned farms and schools to mine in the Park, an area now controlled by the rebel Ruwandan Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) based in Goma, spreading devastation, drugs, delinquency and AIDS. The miners work for very low pay, usually under military coercion.
Visitors and Visitor Facilities
The gorilla population of about 260 animals in the high mountains was the great attraction which before the war attracted 3,000 well-paying tourists a year. It included four groups accustomed to being watched. In February 2001 only 96 animals remained, none being those which had been habituated to people. An asphalt road crosses the eastern park and some paths were kept open to facilitate gorilla viewing but mass tourism to sites was not encouraged: visitors on gorilla tracking tours were admitted in groups of 8 people, paying US$120 each in 1992. A tourist hut and camping facilities were available at Tshivanga. But in 2002 the park was unsafe even for its rangers and tourism was impossible.
Scientific Research and Facilities
Inaccessibility, especially of the western lowland forest, preserved an incompletely known range of natural resources but also made them difficult to study. At present research there is too dangerous to conduct. The Institut Zairois pour la Conservation de la Nature (IZCN) had intended to establish a small research center at Tchivanga. From 1987 the IZCN with German Technical Assistance (GTZ), Kyoto University, the Centre de Recherches en Sciences Naturelles (CRSN) and the Dian Fossey Gorilla fund (DFGF) have worked on gorilla census and primate research programs.
The Park comprises a substantial area of tropical rain forest on both low and high mountains, the latter dominated by two extinct volcanoes. The park was populated with a diverse and abundant fauna including one of the last aggregations of eastern lowland gorillas, now an increasingly an endangered species.
The park was established primarily to protect the gorillas. A system of four zones was proposed: forested buffer zone with administration, tourism, extensive use and strict conservation. There is a secondary station at Itebero on the northern boundary. An IUCN/WWF Project to conserve the mountain gorillas was proposed and a program funded by the governments of Zaïre and West Germany (GTZ) to reduce pressure on the park’s resources by improving the conditions on its borders (IZCN/GTZ). The Park was managed by the ICCN supported by GTZ, but the latter withdrew after the civil war leaving protection to a few dedicated rangers in the northeast.
The 1994 war in Rwanda caused an influx of an estimated up to 2 million refugees into Zaire. A refugee camp for 50,000 was sited next to the park, effectively transferring the war into Zaire, followed by deforestation and poaching; elephants soon started to die and by 2001 only 2 out of 350 families survived. Their poaching seems to have been highly organized. The main Kisingani-Bukavu road facilitated invasion and split animal populations in the mountains. The corridor between the two sections was illegitimately acquired by a highly placed official for raising cattle, and a boundary-marking team was attacked. This divides the Park into two, preventing animal populations moving between the sections of the Park. Tracks in the western section so deteriorated that guards were unable to patrol it properly; they were also unpaid, inadequately equipped and trained, and regularly intimidated by militia gangs. The collapse of the transport system increased reliance on bushmeat to about 80% of protein consumed.
The park was further degraded after the 1997 coup and the 1998 rebellion in former Zaire when the Goma-based Rwandan RCD (and the Ugandan and Burundian armies) challenged the government for control of the resource-rich east of the country. Many facilities were looted or destroyed, including the main Park station at Tshivanga where valuable plant genetic stocks were lost. The Park guards were disarmed by the Rwandan army and forbidden to patrol; most were evacuated and many left the area. Conservation monitoring and nearly all surveillance stopped. By 1999 the ICCN had lost control of much of the Park. Since then, 16 live chimpanzee trafficking networks have been uncovered in the Park. The economic problems caused by the civil war: looting, destruction of communities, displacement, hunger and poverty, led to a free-for-all, stopping the tourism which had provided an income for the region. That year a United Nations Foundation project working with the DRC and UNESCO arranged for major funding for park equipment and salaries from 2000 to 2004. In 2000 the Belgian government promised similar assistance.
But during 2000 intensive coltan mining under the aegis of RCD Goma opened the Park up to systematic exploitation as a result of a rise in the price of ore from US$90 per kilogram (kg) in 1999 to US$830/kg in Dec.2000. Continuous hunting for both food and for animals for sale decimated animal populations around mines and villages, threatening all edible species with maiming as well as death. By mid 2000 as few United Nations Foundation funds seemed to be reaching the field, a DRC Emergency Relief Mission of international NGOs was supplying equipment and creating public awareness of the damage. By 2001 95% of the Park was in the hands of militia gangs subsidized by the trade in coltan, with 15 airstrips and up to 15,000 peasant miners and the bushmeat hunters supplying them. A report by I.Redmond was commissioned by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund (DFGF) and others. It noted that soldiers, dealers, army commanders and officials, local and foreign, were the immediate beneficiaries, and that local authorities were unwilling to ban poor people from making a living after the previous unemployment and poverty. It also noted the needs to determine park boundaries, to release funds to equip and pay guards, to coordinate the many NGOs and agencies concerned and for economic help to surrounding communities. In May 2001, UNEP launched the Great Apes Survival Project to protect the threatened species.
Observers spoke of an ecological catastrophe: thousands of settlements in the park, clearing of forest for fuel, charcoal and construction, destruction of farm and grazing land, wildfires, erosion, diversion of streams, siltation and pollution effecting fisheries, continuous overhunting for meat and sale to collectors, destruction of the elephant and gorilla populations, maiming and disturbance of wildlife. The coltan trade was legal and supported by foreign governments and large corporations: according to a 1999 report by P. Baracyetse, the development of the mining had been funded by North American interests. Nevertheless, in March 2001, the IUCN called for a ban on buying coltan mined in protected areas in the DRC, which has 70% of the world's reserves. In April, the UN Security Council released a report damning the trade from protected areas, its role in financing the Rwandan occupation, citing the World Bank and Citibank as passive participants and naming army and government officials in Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi and European firms profiting from it. By mid 2000, after the U.S.government had released some of its stocks, the price of the ore dropped to US$10/kg, forcing miners to become more dependent on poaching and gold-mining again.
However, as mining will continue to be of economic importance in the area, a DFGF report proposed not to ban it but to establish strict controls on the industry along with the provision of alternative work so that the state and people are better able to benefit from their own resources. In 2001, with the help of the UNESCO/DRC/UNF Project, RCD and GTZ, Park guards, although as yet unarmed, were able to reassert some control over 10% of the Park, in the east, though not over the corridor or the western lowlands. In October 2002 the Tshivanga station was captured by Mai-Mai, and retaken by the RCD. In 2001 the Director-General of the World Heritage Centre visited the main decision-makers of the region. By mid 2002 the DRC Parks Relief Mission had delivered through the Gorilla Haven Project many necessary supplies to the Park and helped to restore the morale and effectiveness of the guards. By mid 2003, thanks to an intensive public-awareness campaign and the withdrawal of warring militia, a general agreement to safeguard the survival of the gorillas was reached and the Tshivanga station and two patrol posts were in working order again (BRD, 2003).
The official establishment was a Chief Curator, Assistant Curator and a resident biologist at Tshivanga with 45 game scouts. In the western area they operated from the northern substation at Itebero. However, the service has been totally disrupted by rebel militia and invasion by miners. ICCN staff had to abandon the western section of the Park and accept limited action in the east which they defend at the risk of their lives.
Little information is available about past funding. In 1999, working with UNESCO and the DRC, the United Nations Fund promised US$ 4,186,600, two-thirds of it outright, to compensate staff and pay salaries and allowances for the five D.R.C.World Heritage Sites between 2000 and 2004. US$20,000 was pledged to the Park via GTZ, for uniforms and new equipment, and in 2000 the Belgian government also promised US$500,000 for the same parks and period. After initial delays this began to improve conditions and morale in all five sites. The U.S.Government proposed at Johannesberg in 2002 to invest up to $53 million dollars in the Congo Basin Forest Partnership through 2005. Kahuzi-Biega Park will be among the beneficiaries.
IUCN Management Category
- II (National Park)
- Natural World Heritage Site, inscribed in 1980. Natural Criterion iv
- Listed as World Heritage in Danger in 1997 due to devastation by civil war, uncontrolled invasion by miners and soldiery and the destruction of wildlife by hunting for bushmeat and ivory.
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