Garamba National Park, DRC
Garamba was severely impacted by the elephant poaching crisis in 2012. Not only were local and Sudanese poachers more active, but there was increasing evidence of the LRA’s involvement in ivory poaching and trading. Over a period of five months, more than 50 elephants were killed in the park. In mid-March, a major elephant poaching incident occurred when 22 elephants were killed in the park and their tusks and male genitalia removed. Forensic investigations proved that the elephants had been shot by helicopter, with at least 15 of the elephants killed with a single shot to the top of the head. In the weeks after the incident, a Ugandan Defence Force (UPDF) helicopter was twice observed flying at low-level in the park. Although unauthorised to fly in the DRC, the UPDF has denied any involvement in the poaching incident which remains unsolved.
Garamba also experienced heightened levels of LRA activity during the year. In June, a 50-strong LRA group attacked our rangers and an hour-long battle ensued. Several LRA militants were injured whilst our scouts managed to retreat without injury. A substantial LRA camp was subsequently discovered in the park accommodating over 100 LRA men, women and children. In the wake of this incident, the Congolese army (FARDC) sent 32 soldiers to reinforce patrols whilst the UN’s MONUSCO forces sent 15 soldiers to assist with security at Nagero. With this increased activity, the LRA camp was abandoned and the rebels retreated possibly to the adjoining Azande Domaine de Chasse (hunting zone).
In the face of such increased threats, a security consultant was engaged to conduct an advanced anti-poaching course for 80 Garamba rangers. On completing the course in November, 35 rangers were selected to form an elite Rapid Response Unit that will be deployed to combat poaching and security threats. Ground patrols are now being carried out to the north of the Garamba River in an effort to reduce poaching and security incidents within the park.
The park management plan was validated by our government partner, ICCN, enabling us to continue with infrastructural developments and improvements to the park. Almost 500km of tracks were reopened and for the first time in several years, the Garamba River was able to be traversed. During the year we completed the construction of a major school and the new Nagero Hospital, which opened in November. A water system was provided in the staff camp and new staff houses were finally completed. For the previous four years, staff had been living in tents following the LRA attack on headquarters in January 2009. Houses for volunteers were also completed, along with the conversion of the old warden’s house to an office, and a new house for the warden. A new truck was acquired to alleviate transport difficulties and reduce transport costs.
An aerial census was carried out this year and the results confirmed that, whilst numbers of most animal species have risen, the elephant population has declined. It is
estimated that there are now just under 2,000 elephants in the core park area. Tracking collars were fitted to five giraffe, one elephant and one lion in order to monitor their movements. One of the collared giraffe was unfortunately killed in November, however the poachers kept the satellite collar, enabling them to be tracked over the border where they were apprehended by the South Sudanese authorities. Several new chimpanzee nests were identified by the research group operating in the Mondo Misa Domaine de Chasse and camera trap images were recorded of individuals.
Medical equipment and supplies for the new Nagero Hospital arrived in October. This hospital will provide proper medical care for local people for the first time and marks a major milestone in Garamba’s community programme. At the end of the year, we launched a polio vaccination campaign for infants in the villages of Nagero, Route 4 and Yanguma. We also recruited a doctor who is able to perform complex surgery at the new hospital. Nineteen schools comprising 2,000 pupils and nearly 300 adults participated in Garamba’s environmental education programme, with many pupils visiting the park. Additional schools, women’s cooperatives and local associations have also asked to be included in the programme. During 2012, we increased our support for local microprojects. This included acquiring 130 pressure machines for brick-making as well as investing in local schools, agricultural projects and poultry breeding.
Tourism and Marketing
Garamba received worldwide publicity following a New York Times and International Herald Tribune front page article on the park’s elephant poaching onslaught. The article was syndicated in over 50 publications around the globe in August, placing Garamba firmly under the international spotlight. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation made a TV documentary about Garamba’s poaching challenges and various Government and NGO representatives visited the park to research the poaching activities of the LRA. As a result visitor numbers were higher than in previous years. Concerns regarding stability and security prevail, yet those tourists who visit the park are exposed to spectacular wildlife and scenery, as well as having the opportunity to participate in research activities in the park.