DRC’s Salonga National Park removed from the List of World Heritage in Danger – WWF

On 19 July 2021, during its 44th session, the World Heritage Committee decided to remove Salonga National Park (Democratic Republic of the Congo) from the List of World Heritage Sites in Danger due to improvements in its state of conservation.

Image: Magazine de l'Afrique

The decision follows a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN monitoring mission which took place from 23 January to 4 February 2020 in and around Salonga National Park (SNP). The information gathered by this mission showed that the state of conservation of SNP had significantly improved since the last monitoring mission in 2012.


SNP is the largest protected area of dense rainforest on the African continent. Very isolated and only accessible by water, the vast Park (33 500 sq.km) plays a fundamental role in climate regulation and carbon sequestration. It is home to numerous Indigenous peoples and local communities and numerous threatened species such as the bonobo, the Congo peacock, the forest elephant and the slender snouted crocodile.


The SNP was inscribed to the list of Natural World Heritage Sites in 1984 based on two criteria:

  • it represents one of the very rare existing biotopes absolutely intact in central Africa. It comprises vast marshland areas and practically inaccessible gallery forests, which have never been explored and may still be considered as practically virgin.
  • The plant and animal life in SNP constitute an example of biological evolution and the adaptation of life forms in a complex equatorial rainforest environment. The large size of the Park ensures the continued possibility for evolution of both species and biotic communities within the relatively undisturbed forest.

 

In 1999 however, the Park was inscribed on the list of World Heritage sites in danger. At the time it was noted that SNP was reeling under anthropogenic pressures such as poaching and slash and burn agriculture paired with armed conflict and an instable political context. In recent years, planned oil drilling concessions further threatened the Park’s integrity.


Against this background, the DRC government, communities and partners have been working hard to address the threats faced by the Park and its removal from the List of World Heritage in Danger. The UNESCO mission in early 2020 recognized that the management of the Park had improved, since the previous mission in 2012, notably with regard to the strengthening of anti-poaching measures allowing for a stable bonobo and forest elephant population. According to latest biomonitoring estimates, Salonga is presently home to more than 15,000 Bonobos (approx. 50% of the global population) and 1,600 forest elephants.


In June 2021, the Congolese authorities provided clarification that the oil concessions overlapping with SNP are null and void. This latest demonstration of DRC’s commitment to Salonga further contributed to Monday’s decision by the World Heritage Committee.


“We congratulate the people and the government of the DRC for the UNESCO Committee’s decision to remove Salonga from the List of World Heritage in Danger.
This decision is a recognition of the enormous amount of work done by the DRC and all the Park's partners over many years. Through collaboration often under difficult conditions, and a shared vision, those involved have been able to achieve this important result for the preservation of this exceptional ecosystem – of national and global significance.


We also take this opportunity to thank all our partners for their support: first and foremost l’Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) and the local communities we work with, UNESCO for the continuous monitoring and its final decision, our implementing partners and our donors, the European Union, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW) and USAID without whose contributions this conservation success – and win for the people and communities of Salonga and the DRC - would not have been possible” said Marco Lambertini, WWF Director General.


Since 2015, WWF has been working with ICCN to improve the Park’s management in accordance with international standards, with one objective being to remove the SNP from the list of World Heritage sites in danger. Key efforts include implementing regular ecological monitoring of characteristic species, supporting ICCN in operationalizing the government’s anti-poaching strategy and strengthening the collaboration between all actors involved in the management and conservation of SNP, ranging from scientists to local communities.

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