The Kahuzi-Biega National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is under threat. The park is a protected area near Bukavu town, and situated near the western bank of Lake Kivu and the Rwandan border. But this nature reserve is almost converting into a commercial venture. Nearly 1,800 tons of charcoal are extracted here every month.
Farmers have encroached the park, even though it is forbidden.
One of the biggest threats to the park is poaching and trade of gorilla babies, which has put the world’s largest ape, the eastern lowland gorilla, on the verge of extinction
“You must know that to get a baby gorilla, you must shoot down all its family members. This is a very dangerous kind of poaching. We can still perhaps tolerate poaching to sustain livelihoods, but commercial poaching is very destructive,” explains Nkulu Kalala, a warden of the park.
According to Josue Aruna, the president of the civil environmental society of North Kivu, the human activities and encroachment come about as a result of extreme poverty that has struck local populations.
“The communities will quickly turn to this ecosystem that is very close to them to meet their economic and social needs. This population pressure in the ecosystem is related to the poverty of the population and high population growth around the national park especially in the high-altitude part,” he says.
The current state of affairs in this park has affected tourist numbers, which are now running low, and the local population is hurting.
“We would receive like forty tourists a day, that’s about eight people per family. Today, we can even go for a whole week without receiving a single guest. Only during weekends. Personally, I have never received more than ten tourists,“says Lambert Mongane.
With it’s exceptional biodiversity of flora and fauna, the Kahuzi-Biega park is home to some 136 species of mammals, with the eastern lowland gorilla being the most prominent, according to a site dedicated to its conservation.
Among the mammal species are twelve species of primates, amongst them eastern chimpanzees and colobus, as well as forest elephants, leopards, civets, gennets, otters and many antelope and duiker. Thirty of the 336 species birds found in the park are endemic to the Albertine Rift, including the Rockefeller’s sunbird, Ruwenzori Turaco, Grauer’s broadbill, Grauer’s warbler and Shelley’s crimsonwing, There are a further 69 species of reptiles and 44 species of amphibians.
The park is also hotspot for endemic plant varieties; 1,178 species have been identified in the high altitude sector alone. It is one of the few places in sub-Saharan Africa where a full and stunning transition of vegetation stages can be found, ranging from the low altitude sector at 600m to the peak of Mont Kahuzi at 3,308m.
The park whose conservation has been disrupted by wars and unrest, is one of the five World Heritage Sites in DR Congo.
The park was gazetted by the Congolese government in 1970 to conserve the Grauer’s gorilla, the world’s largest gorilla species. It remains the only place in the world where visitors can see these gorillas in the wild. The park covers an area of 6000 km2 and protects a mountain forest in eastern DR Congo, which is the most densely populated region of the country. The park is named after the two spectacular extinct volcanoes which dominate its high altitude sector, Mont Kahuzi (3,308m) and Mont Biega (2,790m).