State of Conservation
Virunga National Park
(Democratic Republic of the Congo)
Factors affecting the property in 2003*
- Civil unrest
- Financial resources
- Fishing/collecting aquatic resources
- Identity, social cohesion, changes in local population and community
- Illegal activities
- Land conversion
- Volcanic eruption
Factors* affecting the property identified in previous reports
- Political uncertainties,
- New settlements in the Park,
- Gold mining,
- Livestock grazing,
- Destruction of vegetation,
- Agricultural encroachment,
- Over-exploitation of fish populations,
- Lack of financial resources
International Assistance: requests for the property until 2003
Requests approved: 9
Total amount approved : 238,560 USD
|2000||Emergency assistance to World Natural Heritage of the ... (Approved)||26,400 USD|
|1999||Support to Resident Staff of Garamba, Virunga, Kahuzi ... (Approved)||35,000 USD|
|1996||Request for Technical Assistance for Virunga National ...||0 USD|
|1994||Financial contribution for the protection of ... (Approved)||25,000 USD|
|1993||Financial contribution for the purchase of equipment ... (Approved)||20,000 USD|
|1992||Review of the state of conservation of World Heritage ... (Approved)||3,750 USD|
|1991||Purchase of a motor boat and of spare parts for motor ... (Approved)||40,000 USD|
|1990||Training of 2 specialists each from Salonga and Virunga ... (Approved)||4,750 USD|
|1988||Equipment to improve protective measures in Virunga ... (Approved)||40,000 USD|
|1980||Assistance for Virunga National Park (equipment and ... (Approved)||43,660 USD|
Missions to the property until 2003**
April 1996: WHC/IUCN/WWF mission; November-December 2001: World Heritage Centre mission
Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2003
Since the Committee session of June 2002, the political situation in DRC has been in constant and rapid change. A peace accord was signed in July 2002, which lead to a retreat of most foreign troops in October 2002. In April 2003 the new constitution was approved and agreement was reached on the integration of rebel movements into the new government. The establishment of a government of national unity is expected to occur in the coming months. Unfortunately progress at the political level has not led to more stability. Following the retreat of foreign troops, fighting and stand offs between different rebel factions within the DRC have increased sharply, particularly in the eastern parts of the country where four of the five World Heritage sites are located. Such increased fighting between rebel factions has in particular affected the Okapi Wildlife Reserve and the Kahuzi-Biega National Park.
Clashes between rebel groups for control of the Ituri region have seriously affected the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. In November 2002, the site was particularly subject to the front line movements of the Mouvement de Libération du Congo (MLC) and Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie-National (RCD-N) from the West and Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie-Mouvement de Liberation (RCD-ML) from the East. The Park station at Epulu was looted and occupied by military, senior staff had to leave the Reserve and guards were disarmed. A meeting was organized in Beni on December 6, 2002 with officials of the RCD-ML in which participated the assistant Coordinator of the UNESCO/DRC/UNF Project and representatives of conservation NGO working in the site, RCD-ML officials recognized the importance of the protection of the site, agreed to cooperate with ICCN (Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature) staff and to hand back some requisitioned equipment.
In another United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) brokered a cease fire agreement signed on 30 December 2002 between the three factions MLC, RCD-N and RCD-Kisangani-ML, the MLC and RCD-N agreed to withdraw their troops 20 km from the city of Mambasa, to a location situated unfortunately inside the Okapi Reserve. This poses threats to conservation activities and could lead to increased poaching. The Centre has written to MONUC and the heads of the concerned rebel movements on 14 January 2003 requesting that the troops do not retreat to the central part of the Reserve, but instead to Mungbere to the North and Niania to the West. The Centre requested MONUC to facilitate free movement of the Reserve’s personnel, the rearming of the guards and anti-poaching patrols and to receive MONUC’s report related to the above issues in order to present the findings to the 27th session of the Committee. No report has been received so far. Recent information from the site indicates that MLC and RCD-N troops are still stationed inside the Reserve and elephant poaching and other illegal hunting activities are rampant.
Following the retreat of the Rwandan army in early October 2002, fighting broke out in the high altitude sector of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park between the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie – Goma (RCD-Goma) and Mai-Mai militias. The high altitude sector accounts for only 10% of the Park’s surface and has been the only part under regular control from field staff of the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) during the last few years of conflict in eastern DRC. Fighting took place in a vital sector for gorillas, where three of the habituated gorilla families live. Fortunately, no gorillas have been reported killed duing the clashes. The Park station was occupied by Mai-Mai militias and re-conquered by RCD-Goma shortly after. However, the station was not looted. All surveillance and gorilla localization activities had to be suspended. After negotiations between the Park staff, assisted by the advisor of the German Technical Cooperation Project in the Park, and the militia leaders, it was possible to resume gorilla monitoring and surveillance activities in the area around the Park station. The situation remains tense with both military groups positioned in different parts of the sector and Park staff patrolling the gorilla habitat in between the armed groups. Recent reports from Bukavu indicate a military build up by RCD-Goma in the Thsivanga station and other positions in the immediate vicinity of the Park. This might indicate that new military operations are planned with possible disastrous consequences for the high-altitude sector of the Park. There is an urgent need to demilitarize the sector in order to avoid fighting taking place inside the World Heritage site and to facilitate monitoring and surveillance operations.
The low altitude sector, covering 90% of the Park’s area, remains largely uncontrolled by ICCN staff due to the prevailing insecurity. This sector was invaded by coltan (Niobium – Tantalum) miners in 2000 and 2001. With prices of coltan having dramatically decreased on the international market, extraction currently seems no longer economically viable and coltan extraction has apparently ceased in most parts of the Park. However, reports indicate that most miners remain in the Park and have reverted to gold panning and commercial bushmeat hunting. This sector is controlled by a large number of small, poorly organized armed groups.
Following the call by the Committee at its 26th session for urgent initiatives to check illegal encroachments and settlements threatening the Virunga National Park, the World Heritage Centre, in close co-operation with ICCN, WWF and the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP), organized a mission to meet with high level officials of RCD-Goma and local authorities, including the governor and the head of the provincial parliament, to discuss how to address these issues. Authorities stressed that the people being resettled in that area were Congolese nationals from the Masisi area who fled the massacres committed by the Interahamwe militias in 1996 during the dismantling of the Goma refugee camps. They regretted the unclear language of the Committee’s decision that refers to “people coming from across the border with Rwanda”, giving the impression that they are Rwandan nationals. Since 1996, these people were in refugee camps in Rwanda and with the deteriorating living conditions in the camps, many are determined to come back to DRC. With continuing insecurity in the Masisi area, RCD-Goma authorities decided to resettle them temporarily in the Kirolirwe area awaiting the return to their villages of origin. They stressed that these refugees had not been receiving any assistance from the international community but assured that their willingness to identify an alternative site further away from the Park if there would be some financial support from the UN agencies to assist in the movement of the people with their cattle and in settling them in the new area.
A memorandum was signed between the members of the mission and the governor in which the following actions were identified:
· Organise a joint mission between ICCN, conservation NGOs and relevant authorities and government departments to evaluate the state of conservation of the Kirolirwe and Kibumba areas, determine the exact degree of encroachment as well as the impact on the ecosystem.
· Determine an alternative site to install the returning refugees currently at the Kirolirwe site and to move people to this new site as quickly as possible. The site will be identified in cooperation with the United Nations organizations in Goma responsible for humanitarian aid and conservation NGOs in order to make sure that the site is in accordance to international standards.
· Organise mixed patrols in the Kibumba area in order to clear the sector from grazing cattle.
· Report regularly on progress made on these different points to the World Heritage Committee via the Centre.
The joint mission was organised from 4 to 7 October 2002 by ICCN, IGCP and WWF’s ‘Project Education Virunga’ (PEVi). A detailed report was provided to the Centre and IUCN. The mission was able for the first time to evaluate the extent of damage in particular in the region of Kirolirwe to the west of the Park. The mission team found widespread deforestation, numerous furnaces for the production of charcoal in industrial quantities, large areas of land converted to crops and pasture, and numerous small settlements where even schools and churches have been set up. The deforestation and spread of crop growing has visibly changed the landscape from natural forest into an open landscape from which large fauna such as elephants and buffalo have completely disappeared. The mission team interviewed some of the people who have moved into this area of the Park and found that they are aware of the World Heritage importance of the Park but are not prepared to leave until their home-towns become secure. Some accuse the international community of condemning their move into the Park rather than coming to their assistance. The mission recommended that strong measures be taken to remove the illegal immigrants from the west of the Park. They recommended that the leaders of the groups now occupying the Park be called before a special session of the Provincial Assembly of North Kivu in order to debate the problems related to the management and protection of the Park, and that illegal activities are sanctioned appropriately. Following the mission, RCD-Goma authorities proposed a new site to resettle the Kirolirwe displaced people. However, the proposed site was also too close to the Park and thus unacceptable. To date, this issue remains unresolved and pressure on natural resources in the Kirolirwe region is increasing with more people arriving every day. Progress was made in the Kibumba area where grazing cattle was removed from the Park.
Apart from the problem in Kirolirwe, encroachment remains a critical issue for the whole Virunga National Park. The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) carried out an aerial survey of the Park in April 2003. Preliminary findings indicate a dramatic decrease of some mammal species, such as the hippopotamus. In the Semliki valley in the northern sector, the survey team could only count 80 individuals. If these figures are confirmed, this means that only 1 % of the original population of hippopotamus is left in this sector of the Park. The PEVi programme of WWF, with funding from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), IGCP and WWF Switzerland has been successfully working on participatory border demarcation activities, resulting in the physical demarcation of 46,8 km of park borders and the reclaiming of approximately 2500 ha of encroached Park territory around Mount Tshiabirimu, Bibirizi and Kongo. Four local committees have been established to monitor the Park’s boundary. The programme has been successful both in securing the Park and in improving the relationship with the local communities. Activities will be continued with some funds available under the Belgium funded DRC project on community conservation and it is expected that an additional 45 km could be demarcated in 2003. However, there is an urgent need to mobilize additional funding to scale up this activity in order to demarcate the remaining 450 km. The Centre together with WWF, IGCP and ZSL also developed a pilot project to test a new approach to promote conflict resolution and pacification in the northern part of the Virunga National Park. The new pilot project will bring together key stakeholders, including the existing pacification commissions, to address natural resources governance issues.
In August 2002, WWF Belgium informed IUCN that a Canadian company, Heritage Oil Corporation, in agreement with the DRC Government, intends to obtain oil explorations in the vicinity of the Park around its northern sector. The company informed WWF that it does not intend to carry out explorations within the Park’s boundaries. IUCN is concerned however about potential impacts to the site, should explorations take place in it and in particular north of the site.
The Garamba National Park being at the border with Sudan has been impacted less by the current political instability in eastern DRC. A 2002 survey of large mammals by the International Rhino Foundation did not conclude any significant change in populations for most species compared to the 2000 survey. The population of the endemic northern White Rhino remains stable at approximately 30 individuals. Despite the problems and known and suspected rhino losses during the wars, there has also been a high birth rate. Mosaic burning as well as protection patrols have proved valuable management techniques in giving the rhinos cover as well as grazing access and has contributed to their survival. The recent survey however noted an apparent decline of the population of the northern giraffe, which is a unique subspecies. The current major poaching pressure is coming from the east of the Park and giraffes tend to be concentrated on the edges of the Park, where the habitat is more wooded, and where they are therefore more vulnerable.
The permanent presence of Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) forces east of the Park allows them and their local collaborators easy access into the Park to poach. This issue is being dealt with at various levels with relevant authorities, for which the UNESCO/UNF Project provides useful support.
In the framework of the UNESCO/DRC/UNF Project, a report was recently prepared by the Zoological Society of Milwaukee (ZSM) on the state of conservation of the Salonga National Park. The report notes that the Park is being heavily impacted by poaching, both by surrounding communities and those coming from other areas. The limited number of guards in the Park and a lack of training, arms and basic equipment do not allow successful protection against poachers. The communities around the Park have mostly abandoned their farms. They have been cut off from commerce for a long period of time due to road destruction, and some of them are involved in poaching as a way of generating income. On a different scale, commercial poachers create an enormous threat to Salonga. The well-equipped organised groups, armed with automatic weapons and outboard motors, operating in the Southern Sector are said to originate from Mbandaka. Improved connections by commercial plane and the re-opening of shipping on the Congo River between Kinshasa and Mbandaka are said to have increased commercial poaching pressure. They enter the Park up the Lokolo River during the rainy season. The diversity of large mammals may be especially high in this region as numerous monkey and small antelope species can be observed within a few hundred meters of the villages outside the Park, and the local people are well acquainted with the bonobo, a unique species of chimpanzee found only in this region. Unlike the local people who primarily target monkeys and antelope species, commercial poachers are primarily targeting elephants. The region of Monkoto, Ikali, and Boangi is extremely vulnerable too.
Despite the growing threat of poaching, of the 12 sites recently surveyed by ZSM, eight have evidence of bonobos and seven have evidence of elephants. However, no location is completely devoid of signs of human intrusion. Increased guard surveillance since the beginning of the UNESCO/DRC/UNF programme appears to have increased the frequency of elephants (and possibly bonobos) at certain sites. ZSM is currently analyzing findings from large mammal surveys. More survey work by WCS is underway as part of the CITES Convention programme on the monitoring of illegal killing of elephants (MIKE).
Although government troops control the northern part of the Park, fighting between RCD-Goma and the regular army brought approximately 20% of the southern sector of Salonga under the control of RCD-Goma. The situation has stabilized and MONUC military observers pulled out of the region. ICCN personnel that fled the fighting were able to return to the Anga station in May 2002. The Lukuru Wildlife Project that operates in the southern sector of the Park was able to provide the Anga station with some communication and patrol equipment.
The UNESCO/DRC/UNF Project continued its support to all five World Heritage sites. A detailed report was prepared by the Centre, in co-operation with its partners, as requested by the Committee at its last session. ICCN field staff is paid through the programme at all 5 sites, although payment is more irregular in Salonga and Virunga National Parks due to logistical problems funds transfer and delivery. Law enforcement monitoring systems are being set up in each of the sites and training for guard trainers was organised in South Africa in 2002. Sites also receive continued support for field operations from the different partners in the project. Basic field operation costs are covered in Kahuzi Biega National Park by the German Technical Agency (GTZ), in Okapi Wildlife reserve by Gilmann International Conservation (GIC) and WCS, and in Garamba National Park by the International Rhino Foundation (IRF). In the Virunga National Park, IGCP is covering running costs for the gorilla sectors. A consortium of NGOs, including WWF, WCS, ZSL and IGCP is providing US$ 50,000 for running costs of the other sectors of Virunga but this is clearly insufficient. Salonga National Park in spite of being the largest site with 36000 km2 is hardly receiving any support for running costs. Although all five sites need more financial support, additional support to cover basic running costs is most needed for Virunga and Salonga National Park.
At the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in August 2002, a new regional initiative to conserve the forests of the Congo Basin was launched by the Government of the United States of America together with 28 other governments, international organizations, environmental groups and private enterprises. It is hoped that this initiative will generate additional financial support for DRC protected areas, including the World Heritage sites. A first coordination meeting was held in Paris from 21 to 23 January 2003. The U.S. contribution to the initiative will focus on eleven priority landscapes spanning the Congo Basin, which includes three DRC World Heritage sites, Salonga National Park, Okapi Wildlife Reserve and Kahuzi-Biega National Park.
In co-operation with the MIKE programme and with additional support from the Belgian Federal Office for Scientific, Technical and Cultural Affairs (OSTC), the Centre is developing an ecological monitoring database and base maps for all sites. For the Virunga and Kahuzi-Biega National Parks, base map development is also supported by the European Space Agency for the monitoring of gorilla habitat. Pilot community conservation projects supported by the Directorate General for Development Co-operation of Belgium are also underway in the sites.
The new information provided above has been proposed on a consensual basis between IUCN and the Centre.
Decisions adopted by the Committee in 2003
Properties of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
The World Heritage Committee,
1. Expresses its serious concerns about the continuing threats of poaching in all properties and encroachments and cattle farming in Virunga;
2. Commends international conservation NGOs, the UNESCO/DRC/UNF (United Nations Foundation) Project and the Governments of Germany and Belgium for their commitment to support staff of the properties and to mobilize necessary financial and human resources needed to mitigate threats to the integrity of the five properties;
3. Invites the new National Unity Government of the State Party to commit itself to protecting the integrity of the five World Heritage properties and co-operate with United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) and all other concerned UN, international and national authorities to ensure the complete removal of all armed groups from the territories of the five World Heritage properties;
4. Urges the new National Unity Government of the State Party to call upon all sections of society, including the military forces, local communities residing near the World Heritage properties and the broader public to commit to supporting the work of the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) at the national, regional and property levels and provide the necessary human, material and financial resources for the conservation of the five World Heritage properties and biodiversity resources of the DRC;
5. Requests the new National Unity Government of the State Party to enforce the legislation prohibiting mining and other resource extraction activities within the five World Heritage properties and to give careful consideration to the environmental impact of such activities, whenever they are planned for implementation outside the World Heritage properties;
6. Reiterates its call for urgent and high-level diplomatic initiatives to halt illegal encroachment and settlements threatening the Virunga National Park and to ensure that all authorities respect the international significance and neutrality of World Heritage properties and assist property staff and other conservation authorities to effectively protect those properties;
7. Expresses its appreciation to the United States Government, the European Union and other donor countries and international organizations for the launching of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership and invites them to work with the State Party and the Secretariat to develop a programme to consolidate the achievements of the UNESCO/DRC/UNF project;
8. Recommends that the Director-General of UNESCO consider, in co-operation with the Government of Belgium, IUCN, UNF, NGO partners and other appropriate States Parties, institutions and organizations, to launch an international campaign for supporting World Heritage and biodiversity conservation in the DRC and to ensure the full recovery of the World Heritage value of the five properties;
9. Decides to retain the Garamba, Salonga, Kahuzi-Biega and Virunga National Parks and the Okapi Wildife Reserve of the DRC on the List of World Heritage in Danger, and to examine their state of conservation at its 28th session in 2004.
Properties maintained on the List of World Heritage in Danger
The World Heritage Committee,
1. Following examination of state of conservation reports of properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger (WHC-03/27.COM/7A),;
2. Decides to maintain the following properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger:
- Minaret and Archaeological Remains of Jam, Afghanistan (27 COM 7A.21)
- Butrint, Albania (27 COM 7A.26 )
- Tipasa, Algeria (27 COM 7A.17)
- Royal Palaces of Abomey, Benin (27 COM 7A.15)
- Angkor, Cambodia (27 COM 7A.22)
- Manovo-Gounda St. Floris National Park, Central African Republic (27 COM 7A.12 )
- Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve, Côte d'Ivoire/Guinea (27 COM 7A.4)
- Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo (27 COM 7A.2)
- Garamba National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo (27 COM 7A.2)
- Kahuzi-Biega National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo (27 COM 7A.2)
- Okapi Wildlife Reserve, Democratic Republic of the Congo (27 COM 7A.2)
- Salonga National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo (27 COM 7A.2)
- Sangay National Park, Ecuador (27 COM 7A.13)
- Abu Mena, Egypt (27 COM 7A.18)
- Simien National Park, Ethiopia (27 COM 7A.3)
- Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve, Honduras (27 COM 7A.14)
- Manas Wildlife Sanctuary, India (27 COM 7A.9)
- Group of Monuments at Hampi, India (27 COM 7A.23)
- Old City of Jerusalem & its Walls (27COM7A.29)
- Timbuktu, Mali (27 COM 7A.16)
- Air & Ténéré Natural Reserves, Niger (27 COM 7A.5)
- Bahla Fort, Oman (27 COM 7A.19)
- Fort and Shalamar Gardens in Lahore, Pakistan (27 COM 7A.242)
- Chan Chan Archaeological Zone, Peru (27 COM 7A.28)
- Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras, Philippines (27 COM 7A.25)
- Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary, Senegal (27 COM 7A.6)
- Ichkeul National Park, Tunisia (27 COM 7A.8)
- Rwenzori Mountains National Park, Uganda (27 COM 7A.7)
- Everglades National Park, United States of America (27 COM 7A.11)
- Historic Town of Zabid, Yemen (27 COM 7A.20)
Draft 27 COM 7 (a) 2
The World Heritage Committee,
1. Expresses its serious concerns about the continuing threats of poaching in all sites and encroachments and cattle farming in Virunga;
2. Commends international conservation NGOs, the UNESCO/DRC/UNF Project and the Governments of Germany and Belgium for their commitment to support staff of the sites and to mobilize necessary financial and human resources needed to mitigate threats to the integrity of the five sites;
3. Invites the new National Unity Government of the State Party to commit itself to protecting the integrity of the five World Heritage sites and co-operate with MONUC and all other concerned UN, international and national authorities to ensure the complete removal of all armed groups from the territories of the five World Heritage sites;
4. Urges the new National Unity Government of the State Party to call upon all sections of society, including the military forces, local communities resident near the World Heritage sites and the broader public to commit to supporting the work of ICCN at the national, regional and site levels and provide the necessary human, material and financial resources for the conservation of the five World Heritage sites and biodiversity resources of DRC;
5. Requests the new National Unity Government of the State Party to enforce the legislation prohibiting mining and other resource extraction activities within the five World Heritage sites and gives careful consideration to evaluate environmental impacts of such activities whenever they are planned for implementation outside the World Heritage sites;
6. Commends the US Government, the European Union and other donor countries and international organizations for the launching of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership and invites them to work with the State Party and the Centre to develop a programme to consolidate the future of the UNESCO/DRC/UNF project;
7. Recommends that the Director General of UNESCO consider, in co-operation with the Government of Belgium, IUCN, UNF, NGO partners and other appropriate States Parties, institutions and organizations to launch an international campaign for supporting World Heritage and biodiversity conservation in DRC and to ensure the full recovery of World Heritage values of the five sites; and
8. Decides to retain the Garamba, Salonga, Kahuzi-Biega and Virunga National Parks and the Okapi Wildife Reserve of the DRC on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
The threats indicated are listed in alphabetical order; their order does not constitute a classification according to the importance of their impact on the property.
Furthermore, they are presented irrespective of the type of threat faced by the property, i.e. with specific and proven imminent danger (“ascertained danger”) or with threats which could have deleterious effects on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (“potential danger”).