Garamba is exceptional as it not only provides spectacular savannah scenery with its associated wildlife, but also boasts extensive sections of forest that house forest specialists. This variety of habitats has resulted in an exceptionally high biodiversity.
Garamba is situated in the district of Haut-Uélé in the north eastern corner of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, adjacent to the Sudanese border. Garamba adjoins Sudan's Lantoto National Park and is surrounded in the south, east and west by the Gangala-naBodio, Mondo Missa and Azande domains de chasse or hunting areas. The park's northern border is the watershed of the Nile and Congo Rivers. The total area of the Garamba complex is 12,427km2.
Garamba National Park was established by Belgian Royal Decree in 1938 and became one of the first national parks in Africa. It was closely linked to the Elephant Domestication Centre, established in 1920 at Gangala na Bodio, where more than 100 elephants were trained to work in agricultural fields.
Garamba was proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. It was listed on the World Heritage in Danger list in 1996 due to the threat to the remaining northern white rhino, which is now thought to be extinct at Garamba.
Between 1976 and 1980 Garamba's wildlife came under immense pressure, predominantly from commercial Sudanese poachers. During this period, elephant numbers dropped from an estimated 22,000 to only 5,000 individuals. By 1984 the population of critically endangered northern white rhino had shrunk to only 15 animals. At the time anti-poaching activities were focused on the southern region of the park to protect and attempt to recover the rhino population and by 1991, 30 northern white rhino were known to inhabit the park.
More recently however, large mammal populations in the northern region of the park have suffered due to both foreign and local poaching activities. Between 1999 and 2002/3, the Orientale Province of the DRC was under enormous pressure from a range of factors including civil war, undisciplined Congolese soldiers and foreign troops, SPLA rebels from Sudan and poachers. Garamba's wildlife suffered enormously and northern white rhino numbers plummeted to only four individuals. To add to Garamba's difficulty, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel group in existence since 1986, progressively pushed into Southern Sudan and started using Garamba as a safe haven out of reach of the Ugandan army.
By 2005 financing for Garamba was virtually non-existent. Living conditions for employees and their families were not only difficult, but also dangerous. The supply of basic goods was problematic and necessities such as fuel and spare parts to maintain park vehicles were impossible to find. Much of the infrastructure was in disrepair and roads and airfields were overgrown. As a result the majority of the ranger outposts had long been abandoned. Anti-poaching operations were limited and concentrated on the southern region of the park, yet bushmeat remained freely available in several local villages and towns.
For a long time, research and monitoring in Garamba concentrated mainly on the population dynamics of the northern white rhino and, to a lesser extent, elephant and giraffe. However these operations were halted in February 2005 when the expatriate staff from the previous project left the park. As a result, what was known about the wildlife populations became increasingly outdated.
On 12 November 2005, African Parks, in partnership with the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN), officially assumed management responsibility for Garamba.