On 2 February 2012, a report on the state of conservation of the property was submitted by the State Party with information on the State Party efforts to secure the property. From 2 to 15 March 2012, a joint World Heritage Centre and IUCN mission visited the property to assess its state of conservation, progress achieved in the implementation of the corrective measures and etablish the Desired state of conservation for the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger, as requested by the World Heritage Committee at its 35th session. The mission report is available on line at the following Internet address : http://whc.unesco.org/fen/sessions/35COM
The mission confirmed that the main threats to the integrity of the property, identified by previous missions, remain current, notably insecurity due to the presence of armed bands, poaching by the military and local communities, conflicts with local communities regarding Park boundaries and fishing in rivers forming the natural boundary of the Park, the absence of protected ecological continuum between the two sectors of the Park and the impact of villages located within the Park. Based on information gathered, the mission considered that the situation in the property has further deteriorated since the 2007 reactive monitoring mission. However, the mission notes that the insecurity situation, that had resulted in the establishment of an illegal administration in and around certain parts of the Park, has incited the State to launch, in October 2011, an important mixed operation, between the ICCN management authority and the FARDC armed forces, called ‘Operation Bonobo’ to reestablish authority and combat large-scale poaching. The mission also notes a general low morale in the guards as well as the partners due to the very poor involvement of the authorities in the restoration of the Outstanding Universal Value of the Park and its management.
Progress in the implementation of the previous Committee decision was evaluated by the mission:
a) Organize and implement a mixed operation to combat large-scale poaching between the Congolese Armed Forces and the ICCN management authority in the most threatened zones
Following the identification of about ten armed groups in the property, representing about 200 poachers, a security operation was launched as of 3 October 2011, before the general elections. At the time of the mission, 22 poachers had been arrested, 9 judged and sentenced (two freed following appeal). 140 weapons of war and 70 hunting rifles were seized. Five poachers were killed. Some poachers hid in one of the villages in the Park. During the mission, the operation was extended by four months to track down poachers in their hide-outs. Although the mission considers that this operation was very positive, it notes that no control mechanism seems to have been established to prevent the military, who remain in small numbers in the property, from engaging in poaching activities, as has been observed on other occasions. Also, the indispensible and immediate measures to ensure the continuity of this operation to restore and establish effective long-term control of the Park by the ICCN, do not appear to have been taken.
b) Establish a permanent consultation structure between the political, administrative and military provincial authorities of the four provinces concerned with the property to eliminate, in a coordinated manner, illegal activities, notably large-scale poaching, in the Park
The mission notes that a permanent consultation structure between the four provinces exists, but has only met once in 2008. It appears that there is some confusion between this permanent consultation structure and a quadripartite meeting of the Governors, MONUSCO and the chiefs of the military regions to coordinate ‘Operation Bonobo’.
The mission considers that at the present time, it is indispensible to formalize this consultation structure and to perpetuate its functioning and mandate.
c) Implement the anti-poaching strategy recently developed and an operational system of Law Enforcement Monitoring (LEM)
Despite its repeated requests, the mission was unable to obtain a copy or even simply the outline of this anti-poaching strategy that should have been finalized in 2007. In any event, the 2007 strategy is probably obsolete after six years without any real implementation and should at least be updated.
The mission noted that 90 guards have been trained, but are still waiting to be integrated after two years. Currently, there are 200 poorly-equipped guards, with no means of transportation, and not possessing the necessary competences to carry out anti-poaching operations. The mission notes that several documents provide a figure of 600 guards being necessary for the protection of the property. The mission also notes the importance to ensure monitoring of the anti-poaching strategy that should be monitored and evaluated through the immediate implementation of the MIST system, adopted by the ICCN. Permanent monitoring of the results by the ad hoc committee is also necessary. The mission noted the strong interest indicated by the German Development Bank (KfW) and the WWF to become involved in the long-term management of the Park.
d) Initiate a procedure through a participatory process, to resolve conflict concerning the use of Park resources
The mission considers that apart from the issue of resident populations inside the Park (see point e), conflict concerning the use of natural resources of the Park essentially focus on the issue of the exact boundaries of the property and fishing in the rivers forming the natural boundary of the Park. The mission notes that over a total area of 334 km of non-natural boundaries to be delineated, roughly 110 km have been delineated since 2009 through a participatory process. The mission was also informed that an agreement protocol for the co-management of the Luilaka, Luile and Lokoro Rivers was signed on 24 June 2011, between the Park direction and the fishing associations. In this co-management agreement, fishing is authorized in all the waters up to the land boundary in high-water seasons, Park side. The mission notes that this authorizes fishing inside the Park over a large area and that this situation does not enable the effective control of the movement of poachers who use fishing as a pretext to penetrate into the Park to carry out illegal hunting. The mission emphasizes that uncontrolled circulation of fishermen in the Park hampers the capacity of ICCN to regain control. It considers that it would have been preferable to limit the fishing rights to river waters only. The mission notes that the agreement makes no mention of restrictions, the basis of all sustainable fishing strategies, in the absence of a quota or control of catches.
e) Urgently address the issue of the status of villages inside the Park
The mission notes that the Management Plan in the process of being validated, foresees the relocation of the two communities of the property. It considers that before deciding on this relocation, a study of the different options to manage this pressure should be conducted. This study should include the possible to control, over a given period, the activities of the communities, for example, through the adoption of regulations for the management of natural resources in the property (eventually on a temporary or transitory basis), indicating their control methods and actions to promote and encourage these communities to relocate outside the Park. This plan would be accompanied by a timetable to allow the ICCN and its partners to restore the necessary resources for the valid management of these zones, which does not appear to be the case at all today.
f) Reconnect, in the frame of the preparation of a development plan for Salonga National Park, the two sectors of the Park by means of a buffer zone
The mission notes that important work has been accomplished in the area between the two sectors of the property. Participatory zoning and an organization of the land has been carried out in its western two-thirds, already inhabited and preventing ecological continuum between the two blocks. On the contrary, in the eastern corridor a natural intact vegetation zone still exists that could constitute an excellent ecological corridor. This sector was the subject of a preliminary survey of biodiversity that revealed very good indicators of the presence of flagship species.
Work remains to be carried out with the communities to secure this area by granting it a listed status and conferring an appropriate governance, acceptable to the communities. The mission considers that the priority is, therefore, the adoption of this status and the governance of the zone of continuum, then the participatory drafting of its Management Plan.
g) Establish a special fund for the rehabilitation of the DRC World Heritage properties, with a Government contribution
See the general report on the DRC World Heritage propertie (see Document WHC-12/36.COM/7A.Add).
Other conservation issues
The mission was informed that Government interest exists for oil exploration and exploitation in the central basin which encompasses the property, but it did not have detailed information concerning this subject.
The mission notes that the impact of industrial logging has not yet affected the Park, and forest clearing for agriculture in the eight enclaves only affects a very limited area of the property in comparison to its exceptional size. The complexity and floral wealth of the habitats are therefore intact. From the fauna standpoint, the mission notes that there is no new data on the wildlife populations available since the 2007 mission. This mission had noted that the 2003 inventories showed an important reduction in elephant populations throughout the property. The mission notes that this population has since undergone intense ivory poaching. The mission concludes that although the Outstanding Universal Value of the property is mantained for the time being, it is increasingly threatened. Erosion of biodiversity continues and the integrity of the property is seriously questionable due to the above-mentioned threats. The mission has proposed an update of the corrective measures, with priorities, reproduced in the draft decision.
Based on the draft Statement of Outstanding Universal Value, the mission has attempted to prepare a proposal for the Desired state of conservation for removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger, with the management team of the Park, with indicators that could measure the restoration of the biological values of the property, its integrity and management. However, the exercise was hampered by the lack of data on the state of the animal populations of the Park or again the intensity of poaching, for both of the two sectors. It was decided to limit the type of indicators to be considered, without quantifying them for the present. These indicators are included in the mission report. The mission considers that it is extremely important to obtain additional data to finalize this proposal, notably inventories providing a more exact notion of the presence of animal biodiversity.