Protected areas in the Congo Basin


The Congo Basin is home to an impressive wealth of flora and fauna, ranging from individual species (elephant, rhino, hippopotamus, giraffe and gorilla) to endemic habitats (hot spots). The growing interest in protecting the environment in general and ecosystems in particular has led several African States to create protected areas on their territory. According to the updated definition of IUCN (2008) a protected area is "a clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, by any effective means, legal or otherwise, to ensure the long-term conservation of nature and the ecosystem services and cultural values associated with it". This simple, concise definition sets out the fundamental objectives of protected areas: protection and maintenance of biodiversity (understood in its three dimensions: genetic, specific and ecosystem), natural resources, landscapes and related cultural values. Currently, about 22.6 million hectares of dense humid forests in Central Africa, or 14% of its total surface area, enjoy protected area status.


Space conservation has a long history in Africa. Traditionally several species of animals, plants and sometimes forest areas were protected in respect of ancestral customs or for religious considerations. In most Central African countries, the first generations of protected areas in the modern sense of the term were established during the colonial period, from the beginning of the 20th century. The creation of these sites corresponded initially to strategies for resting resources in the face of potentially abusive exploitation of large fauna or timber. Over the decades and following the recognition by the international community of the threats to biological diversity, the importance given to conservation has increased. Initiatives undertaken to conserve biological diversity have intensified and become more widespread within African countries. Over the past two decades, for example, biodiversity conservation has grown from a relatively small group of ecologists and scientists to an integral part of national policies and planning. In an international context, in response to the Rio Convention in 1992, most African countries have signed the Convention on Biological Diversity and have prepared their national biodiversity strategies. Consequently, with the emergence of COMIFAC (Commission des Forêts d'Afrique Centrale) and then RAPAC (Réseau des Aires Protégées d'Afrique Centrale), we are witnessing a dynamic of creation, restructuring and improvement of protected areas in the Congo Basin.


The management of protected areas in the Congo Basin is now based on a new paradigm: the landscape conservation approach. Thus, following the directives formulated in the convergence plan, five complexes of transboundary protected areas have been created since 2000 under the coordination of COMIFAC: