‘Wild Heart of the Congo’ Protected as World Heritage

‘Wild Heart of the Congo’ Protected as World Heritage

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia, July 2, 2012 (ENS) – The heart of the Congo Basin rainforest where elephants, gorillas and chimpanzees still survive was named a World Heritage Site Sunday by the United Nations Education, Science, and Cultural Organization, UNESCO.

The first World Heritage site that spans three nations, the Sangha Tri-National Protected Area complex covers 10,000 square miles (25,000 km2) stretching across the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), Cameroon, and the Central African Republic.

The Sangha River flows through the Tri-National Protected Area. (Photo by Middle Africa)

At its annual meeting in St. Petersburg, the UN World Heritage Committee declared the site would be added to its list along with five other natural sites of outstanding universal value.

The World Heritage Site declaration marks the culmination of a vision dating from 2000 when the three countries agreed to work together to assure conservation and sustainable use of natural resources of the area.

The core of the Sangha Tri-National Protected Area is formed by three adjoining national parks connected by the Sangha River.

“Sangha Trinational is not a fragment but part of a much larger intact environment with good conservation prospects, and harboring critically endangered species,” said Tim Badman, director of the World Heritage Programme of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

In its role as official advisor to the committee on natural sites, the IUCN recommended designation of the Sangha Tri-National Protected Area, usually called by its French acronym, TNS.

The three national parks now protected as a World Heritage Site are shown in dark green; the buffer zone is light green. (Map courtesy TNS Foundation)

The TNS already benefits from long-term technical and financial support from the Wildlife Conservation Society, World Wildlife Fund, a UK-registered trust fund called the TNS Foundation, UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre, the UN Great Apes Survival Partnership, GRASP, and the governments of the United States, Germany, France and Spain, as well as private donors.

Timothée Fomete, executive director of the TNS Foundation, said, “The TNS recognition as a World Heritage Site comes as a reward to a multi-partnership approach fostered by the foundation within the framework of the Central African Forest Commission, COMIFAC. This decision raises the profile of TNS as well as expectations on the urgency of an integrated conservation and development approach. With the support from the three country government and donors, the Foundation will continue to contribute to the sustainable financing of this beautiful World Heritage site.”

Location in Africa of the Sangha Tri-National Protected Area (Map courtesy TNS Foundation)

“The TNS is the wild heart of the Congo Basin rainforest,” said James Deutsch, Wildlife Conservation Society’s director of Africa Programs. “It contains some of the last great populations of African forest elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, and other endangered species.”

“We applaud the World Heritage Committee for acknowledging the area as a global treasure and congratulate the governments of the Republic of Congo, Cameroon, and Central African Republic for their foresight,” said Deutsch. “As everywhere in Central Africa, this global treasure is under threat from unsustainable resource extraction, including the illegal ivory trade, and we hope that the TNS’s listing will re-energize global efforts to save it.”

While listing as a World Heritage site does not completely protect areas of Outstanding Universal Value from resource extraction, the committee is in the process of developing a set of formal guidelines for countries that are Parties to the World Heritage treaty to keep extractive industries out of World Heritage sites.

Gorillas in a forest clearing in the new TNS World Heritage site (Photo by Thomas Breuer courtesy Wildlife Conservation Society)

Stefanie Conrad, regional representative of WWF for the Central Africa region, recognizes all the effort that has gone into achieving a World Heritage declaration for the area. “This inscription is the culmination of over a decade of work by many dedicated people, ranging from protected area managers, central governments in the three countries, researchers, community leaders, private sector and financial partners to make the TNS a truly functional trans-boundary managed world class forest landscape.”

“This World Heritage status will introduce the TNS to the rest of the world and lead to increased support for the continued protection of the area’s globally important biodiversity and for the people that depend on it,” Conrad said.

The TNS has one of the lowest human footprints in equatorial Africa. Its tropical forests, wetlands, and natural forest clearings known as “bais” attract multiple gorilla groups simultaneously, while others host thousands of parrots.

The bais are exceptional hubs for social and genetic exchanges for wildlife. Only there do more than 100 forest elephants so often congregate, sometimes with other large mammals such as forest buffalo, giant forest hogs, striped antelope known as bongo and swamp-dwelling antelope called sitatunga.

Elephants and forest buffalo in the Sangha Tri-National Protected Area (Photo by Richard Carroll courtesy WWF)

The new World Heritage Site is made up of a core 2,911 square miles (7,542 km2) area consisting of Dzanga-Ndoki National Park in Central African Republic, Lobéké National Park in Cameroon, and Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in the Republic of Congo.

An additional 6,903 square miles (17,880 km2) buffer zone is managed for selective logging operations, many of which are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council as logged sustainably.

The buffer zones include the Dzanga-Sangha Dense Forest Special Reserve in Central African Republic, a multiple use area where agriculture, hunting, logging and safari hunting are permitted. There are five logging concessions bordering the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park and a series of logging and community-use zones in Cameroon.

The World Heritage List includes 957 properties forming part of the cultural and natural heritage which the World Heritage Committee considers to have outstanding universal value.

These include 739 cultural sites, 189 natural sites and 29 mixed cultural-natural properties in 155 countries. As of March 2012, 189 of the world’s 193 governments had ratified the World Heritage Convention.

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Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.

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