Salonga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo


Salonga National Park (1°00'-3°20'S, 20°-22°30'E ) is the world’s second largest tropical rainforest national park and the largest in Africa. It is isolated in the center of the Congo river basin, accessible chiefly by water or air and is the habitat of many endemic endangered species, notably the bonobo (pygmy chimpanzee), the Zaire peafowl, the forest elephant and the African slender-snouted crocodile.

Threats to the Site

Heavy poaching for bushmeat and encroachment by militias. Salonga, with the four other World Heritage Sites in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), now benefits from a UNESCO project financed largely by the United Nations Foundation, to provide funding of 4.1 million dollars for the training and equipment of conservation staff as well as for protection of the country’s biodiversity. The U.S. State Department has also pledged massive funding.

Geographical Location

caption A ranger holds a slain waterbuck antelope killed by bushmeat hunter weeks earlier. (Source: University of California at Berkley)

Lies in the central Congo River basin, 100 kilometers (km) south of Boende, midway between Kinshasa and Kisingani, in a very isolated region accessible mainly by water or air: 1°00'-3°20'S, 20°-22°30'E .

Date and History of Establishment

1970: Designated a National Park by Ordinance 70-318. It is defined in law as une réserve naturelle intégrale in the sense of the 1933 London Convention.


3,656,000 hectares (ha) in two blocks separated by a 40-45 km-wide corridor. The north block, in Equateur province, is more than 1,700,000 ha, the south block in Equateur, Bandudu and Kasaï Occidental provinces is over 1,900,000 ha.

Land Tenure

Government. Administered directly by the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN).


350 meters (m) to 700 m rising from west to east.

Physical Features

The Park‘s two sectors run along a series of parallel southeast-northwest trending river watersheds, covering three types of landscape: low swamp-forested plateaus, river terraces and high dry-forest plateaus, each with its distinct vegetation. In the northern block, between the Lomela and Loile rivers, valleys in the west are large and meandering with marshy banks. In the higher land in the east, the valleys are deeper and rivers may run below cliffs up to 80 m high. The southern block lies between the Luilaka and Lula rivers. Soils are a thin humus layer over clayey sands with several lateritic flushes. In the lower western valleys up to half the soil cover is hydromorphic.


Typically continental equatorial: hot and humid with a mean annual precipitation of 2,000 millimeters (mm) over most of the reserve, falling to 1,700 m in the south, and with a slightly drier season from June to August. Rains are mostly downpours and on only 30 days in the year is precipitation less than 20 mm. The average relative humidity is 86%, regularly reaching saturation at night, but maintaining an average of 77% during the day. Temperatures are stable with daily mean variations between 20°C at night and 30°C during the day. The mean annual temperature is 24.5°C. Cloud cover is often complete until 10 a.m. and is associated with fog and storms from midday to 3 p.m., but skies are often clear at night to 4 a.m.


The National Park covers over a third of the immense Salonga-Lukenie-Sankuru forest and is the second largest almost intact tropical rain forest reserve in the world. Its high (to 45m) equatorial forest trees cover most of the area, varying in composition]according to the geomorphology. The principal forest types are swamp, riverine, and dry-land forests. Lowland evergreen ombrophile forest is dominated by well-developed stands of Gilbertiodendron dewevrei with G. ogoouense and Brachystegia laurentii. Semi-deciduous forest covers almost all the areas between the rivers, most frequently comprising Staudtia stipitata, Polyalthia suavaeolens, Scorodophloeus zenkeri, Anonidium mannii and Parinari glaberrimum. Pioneer or transitory communities are found along river banks, including Macaranga lancifolia, Harungana madagascariensis, Uapaca heudelotii and Parinari congensis. Flood-liable forest species are Oubanguia africana, Scytopetalum pierrianum and Guibourtia demeusei. Swamp forest species are Entandophragma palustre, Coelocaryon botryoides and Symphonia globulifera. Grassland covers less than 0.5% of the park’s area; in the northern block it is known locally as botoka-djoku or elephant's bath. Poaceae and Cyperaceae occur in wet soils. In the south there are natural but man-maintained savanna-like clearings termed esobe. There is some secondary forest on disturbed land. Species composition is yet little studied.


caption Bonobo (''Pan paniscus''), DRC. (Source: Photograph by WWF/ Jo Thompson)

Systematic fauna surveys have begun, and most Congo forest animals seem to be present. The most important of these is the bonobo or pygmy chimpanzee Pan paniscus (VU) which is endemic to the Democratic Republic of Congo where fewer than 10,000 may remain. However, it has been seen in the northwest, northeast and southeast margins of the Park. Other primates include Angolan black and white colobus Colobus polykomos angolensis, western red colobus C. badius (VU), Thollon's red colobus, Procolobus badius tholloni, the endemic black mangabey Lophocebus aterrimus, and numerous Cercopithecus species: including redtailed guenon Cercopithecus ascanius, Salonga guenon C. dryas, golden-bellied mangabey C. galeritus chrysogaster, Wolf's mona C. mona wolfi, Allen's swamp monkey Allenopithecus nigroviridis, Bosman's potto Peridicticus potto and dwarf galago Galagoides demidovi. In savanna-like areas in the south there are several grassland-dependent species including side-striped jackal Canis adustus, serval Felis serval,, Grimm's duiker Sylvicapra grimmia and black-bellied bustard Eupodotis melanogaster.

Both subspecies of elephant Loxodonta africana cyclotis (VU) and L. a. africana (VU) used to be very common in the Park. A few still survive years of savage poaching. Other animals include long-tailed pangolin Manis tetradactyla, giant ground pangolin M. gigantea, tree pangolin Manis tricuspis tricuspis, Congo clawless otter Aonyx congica, spotted-necked otter Lutra maculicollis, leopard Panthera pardus iturensis, African golden cat Felis aurata (K), Angolan mongoose Crossarchus ansorgei, Congo water civet Osbornictis piscivora, red river hog Potamochoerus porcus ubangensis, hippopotamus Hippopotamus amphibius, blue duiker Cephalophus monticola, yellow-backed duiker C. sylvicultor, bay duiker C. dorsalis, water chevrotain Hyemoschus aquaticus, sitatunga Tragelaphus spekei, bushbuck T.scriptus, bongo T. euryceros, and pygmy Cape buffalo Syncerus caffer nanus. Reptiles include African slender-snouted crocodile Crocodylus cataphractus.

101 species of birds have been recorded and 153 may be confirmed. Birds include cattle egret Bubulcus ibis, black stork Ciconia nigra (migrant), yellow-billed stork Mycteria ibis, the African grey parrot Psittacus erythacus, a popular species for sale, and the endemic Congo peafowl Afropavo congensis. A list of birds from the Park has recently been compiled by Van Krunkelsven.

Cultural Heritage

The native Iyalima are gradually losing their young to out-migration and their ancient independent culture with its low-impact on the forest may decline.

Local Human Population

A group of about 800 Iyalima inhabit the western Dekese zone in the southeast of the park in eight villages, living in harmony with the forest. Since the Park’s designation, their occupation of their own lands has been officially illegal. In 2003, the Lukuru Wildlife Research Project (LWRP) initiated a move to formalize their status under newly revised conservation laws. In recent decades, Bantu groups from independent African Christian movements, some seeking refuge from state pressures, have moved into the Park: the Kimbanguistes in the south and Kitawalistes in the north near Lomela. Both are in contact with poachers and it has been proposed to relocate them outside the central zone. The Bianga community in the south survives by poaching and farming within the Park. Local farming is based on manioc, maize and banana, with coffee, rice, oil palms and rubber trees and, with traditional fishing, hunting and gathering, continues in the buffer zone.

Visitors And Visitor Facilities

There is potential for virgin forest tourism, but there have been very few visitors in the past because of the lack of infrastructure and access, and more recently, civil war. However, the post at Mundja is accessible by air. In 2002 the LWRP funded clearance and maintenance of the airstrip at Anga and in 2003, the airstrip at Monkoto, with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and MIKE-IUCN (elephant-monitoring program). All are in the south block.

Scientific Research and Facilities

Much of the Park is unexplored but as early as 1973-1977 an inventory of the flora and fauna was compiled by the Canadian International Development Agency. In 1987 a University of Freiburg expedition observed bonobos on the northeastern edge of the Park. In 1989 the Wildlife Conservation Society led the first large mammal survey in the north block, focusing on elephants. In 1987 Salonga was selected for a forest ecosystem conservation project for Central Africa (Écosystèmes Forestiers d'Afrique Centrale, ECOFAC) funded by the European Commission. For this, M.Colyn (University of Rennes, France) established a research station at Botsima at the eastern edge of the north block where university teams worked during 1990-1. In 1994, collaboration began between the Lukuru Project and ICCN in the Dekese zone in the southeast of the south block to study the flora and fauna, focusing on bonobos, community relations and conservation education. However, during the late 1990s all research was seriously impeded by armed poachers and civil war.

Since 1988 the Zoological Society of Milwaukee County (ZSM) has been the headquarters of the Bonobo Species Survival Plan. In 1995 it published an Action Plan for Pan paniscus and since 1996 when not interrupted by war, ZSM under its field program the Bonobo and Congo Biodiversity Initiative, has assisted ICCN with training of Congolese field researchers and wildlife population assessment and monitoring. In 1997-8 it part funded a two-month reconnaissance survey from Watshi-Kengo on the northern margin of the north block run by E. Van Krunkelsven (Société Salonga, and Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp) to begin to determine the status and distribution of the bonobo and other large mammals in that area. Subsequent wildlife surveys were conducted by B. Inogwabini (ICCN/ZSM) from Watshi-Kengo between December 2000 and May 2002 to evaluate the impacts of war on large animal populations.

During March-April 1998 an LWRP-ICCN team led the first reconnaissance and bonobo/large mammal distribution survey in the south block and collected data on human activities. In 1999 the WCS with the IUCN-MIKE program contracted under a UNESCO World Heritage Site/United Nations project to coordinate a long-term large-scale survey of and bio-monitoring program for the National Park. In 2000 the Max-Planck-Institut (MPI, Jena, Germany) with the ICCN Mundja Post, established a long-term bonobo study site outside the western boundary of the south block at Ipope. From 2001 the Institut and the LWRP have collaborated with the MIKE-IUCN program, and with the WCS, have conducted surveys along 948 km of transects between June and December 2003 to provide a systematic and replicable assessment of data on wildlife and threats to conservation in the National Park and surrounding areas. These data are used to evaluate the distribution and abundance of identified species in relation to human access by roads and rivers, human settlements, the impacts of forestry, mining and agriculture, anti-poaching and hunting activity, microhabitats, and areas of past species distribution and abundance. In 2003 the Lukuru Project traveled overland to map the east and south limits of the south block frontier in the first attempt to cross this region and demarcate the limits of rebel occupation. This information was integrated into the ICCN database, including habitat description, animal signs, human activity, geography, and photographs. In 2003 MPI and GTZ (Germany) took satellite imagery, checked in the field and by aerial photography, of the entire Park. This will be repeated every two years for monitoring and the map is available through ICCN to its partner organizations. In the past, scientific study has been limited by lack of facilities but in the north block, ZSM has now set up a research station in an old poachers' camp, called Etaté. There is rudimentary accommodation for scientists at Monkoto in the northern south block

Conservation Value

The Park is the largest nearly intact tropical rainforest national park in Africa and the second largest in the world. It is the habitat of a very diverse flora and fauna and many endemic endangered species, such as the bonobo (pygmy chimpanzee), for which it was partly founded to protect, the Congo peacock, the forest elephant and the African slender-snouted crocodile.

Conservation Management

The Park is the only part of the Congo basin where the bonobo is nominally protected. In 1985 IUCN and WWF representatives visited and made several recommendations. They suggested that increased effort should go towards improving knowledge of the region: making the area's people more aware of the value of the park, and if possible involving them in management activities; improving the information on the relationship between the local people and the park's ecosystems, such as studies in ethno-botany; improvement of the park's infrastructure and building a research station. Civil wars in 1996 and from 1998 paralyzed conservation, but as they subside, effective ICCN activity and help from outside the country have been restored.

Zoological Society of Milwaukee (ZSM)'s field program has assisted ICCN in the north block, as the Lukuru Project has done in the south block, with emergency relief aid of materials, funding for guards' salaries, guard training, equipment and medicines, training of Congolese field researchers, wildlife population assessment and monitoring; also by working with grassroots conservation education groups. Both ZSM and LWRP have distributed the grants from UNESCO and supplies funded by USAID to ICCN guardposts. ZSM created an anti-poaching program in which river patrols and cable barriers across the Yenge river have proved very effective; and the LWRP with the long established NGO Nouvelles Approches founded and administered the DRC Parks Emergency Relief Mission from 1997 and has assisted UNESCO, UNF and ICCN in the field since 2001. By mid 2002 the Relief Mission, had delivered through several projects, household supplies, medicines, equipment, salaries, and educational resources and helped to restore the morale and effectiveness of the guards by securing uniforms. The Park headquarters at Anga which collapsed in 1999, is being reconstructed by the Project and airstrips cleared at Anga and Monkoto posts. ZSM and Local Waterfront Revitalization Project (LWRP) are actively engaged in fieldwork with the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Max-Planck-Institut at Lui-Kotal and GTZ in biodiversity surveys and inventorying wildlife abundance, distribution and threats, in capacity building and contribution to the ICCN management plan, in increasing ICCN's capacity for surveillance and security, in building relations between the people and ICCN throughout the region, and in continued exploration of the Park.

A management plan for each guard post was developed in 2002 and for the whole Park in 2003 when the IUCN-MIKE program and collaborators undertook training for bio-monitoring inventory and survey work for park guards at the Lokofa camp. To date, a policy of non-management has been followed to avoid unexpected disturbance to the |ecological balance and to allow natural evolution of the ecosystems. Exploitation of the natural forest occurs, but there is no plan for its reforestation or management. A scientific management strategy has been adopted to provide technical and scientific assistance to the management and monitoring of the Park and promote the integrated development of peripheral areas.

Management Constraints

Though the Park was originally far from the conflict in the east, it has many navigable rivers, and has long been open to uncontrolled poaching, especially for ivory, but also more recently for bushmeat including bonobos, eating which was taboo in the Salonga region until the war. Civil conflict in 1996 and from 1998 paralyzed transport, leading to increased reliance on bushmeat, especially by the militia. However, war caused major economic collapse throughout the D.R.C. In Salonga, no river patrols were run between 1990 and 1997 and infrastructure was destroyed. Guards were killed by armed poachers seeking ivory and bushmeat and went unpaid for years. They were under-trained, under-equipped, understaffed and stripped of their arms and uniforms by the militia. Heavily armed soldiery have reinforced native poachers using both traditional and modern methods to considerably reduce the numbers of elephant and grey parrot, though recent investigations have found that elephants and many primate species still exist. There are also impacts from invading Bantu groups, local population pressures, from shifting cultivation, tree cutting and honey gathering and, in the south, habitat destruction by fire. More serious still is the lack of sufficient management infrastructure, professional trained staff and management planning; and patrol and communications equipment are still lacking.

From 2001, the Rwandan RCD-Goma militia (Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie) (based in Goma), has controlled Zone Dekese, the southeastern sector of the Park. This is within the area of the Lukuru Project which negotiated authorisation to work in this sector from both the government and from the rebel authorities. In the north, only government soldiers ensured the safety of expeditions. The partner non-government organizations (NGOs), ZSM in the northwest, LWRP in the southeast, hired local staff who braved long distances and insecure conditions to pay guards, laborers and other staff from funds made available by the UNESCO/DRC/UNF Project. Poaching in the site continues; the number of staff working in the Park is totally inadequate for the huge area where access is extremely difficult. The ability of ICCN, Kinshasa, to manage this and other protected areas under its authority may improve after a GTZ project re-started in 2002. This GTZ project recommenced payments to several ICCN-Kinshasa staff and provided other basic needs such as vehicles and travel allowances that would enable ICCN to better protect Salonga and other protected areas under its direct supervision.


In 1990 there were 150 guards with 7 officers under the Chief Conservator at Anga and his deputy, the Conservator. There are now six staff posts staffed by ICCN: 3 in the north block, at Watshi-Kengo, Mondjoku and Lomela and three in the south block, Monkoto, Mundja and Anga. Staff numbers have not been recently confirmed.


In 1987 this was approximately 300,000 zaïres. From 1997 LWRP organized and delivered supplies and resources of every kind to ICCN posts. In 1999 the United Nations Fund promised US$ 4,186,600, two-thirds of it outright, to compensate staff and pay salaries and allowances for all five D.R.C. World Heritage sites from 2000-2004. Almost US$200,000 was pledged for the protection of the bonobo by the ZSM. In 2000 the Belgian government also promised US$500,000 for the five D.R.C.parks from 2001-2004. In 2002 at Johannesberg the U.S.Government proposed to invest up to $53 million dollars in the Congo Basin Forest Partnership through 2005. The Salonga region will be among the beneficiaries.

IUCN Management Category

  1. II (National Park)
  2. Natural World Heritage Site, inscribed in 1984. Natural Criteria ii, iii.
  3. Listed as World Heritage in Danger in 1999 because of incursion by militias and poaching of wildlife.

Further Reading

  • Biosphere Reserve nomination form submitted to UNESCO, August 1987.
  • D'Huart, J-P.(1988). Parc National de la Salonga (Equateur, Zaire): Conservation et Gestion, Developpement des Collectivités Locales. Report to IUCN, Gland, Switzerland, 64pp.
  • Doumenge, C. (1990) La Conservation des Ecosystèmes Forestiers du Zaire. IUCN/EEC, Gland, Switzerland & Cambridge, U.K. ISBN: 2880329892.
  • Draulens ,D. & van Krunkelsven, E. (2002). The impact of war on forest areas in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Oryx. 36 (1): 35-40.
  • IUCN/WWF (1985). Rapport d'une Mission au Zaïre et Rwanda. IUCN/WWF, Gland, Switzerland.
  • Meder, A.,Herman, P.& Bresch, C.(1998).Pan paniscus in Salonga National Park.Primate Conservation (9):110-1.
  • Pierret, P.& Petit, J. (1976). Contribution a l'Étude et Aménagement du Parc National de la Salonga. FAO, Rome.
  • UNESCO/IZCN/IUCN (1987). Premier Seminaire Internationale sur la Gestion et l'Avenir du Parc Nationale de la Salonga, Zaire. UNESCO/IZCN/IUCN, Paris.
  • UNESCO World Heritage Committee (2000). Report on the 23rd Session of the World Heritage Committee, 1999.
  • UNESCO World Heritage Committee (2001). Report on the 24th Session of the World Heritage Committee, 2000.
  • UNESCO World Heritage Committee (2002). Report on the 25h Session of the World Heritage Committee, 2001.
  • United States Department of State (USDS), Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (2003). Congo Basin Forest Partnership - U.S.Contribution.
  • Van Krunkelsven, E. (2000). A first list of birds from Salonga National Park, Congo. Gerfaut, 87.
  • Van Krunkelsven, E.,Inogwabini & B.,Draulans, D. (2000). A survey of bonobos and other large mammals in the Salonga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo. Oryx, 34(3):180-187.
  • Vogel, G (2000). Conflict in Congo threatens bonobos and rare gorillas. Science 287:2386-2387.

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.



M, U. (2008). Salonga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo. Retrieved from


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