Okapi Wildlife Reserve was inscribed on the List of World Heritage List in Danger in 1997, following the outbreak in 1996 of the Great Lakes conflict with the subsequent establishment of armed bands and rebel groups in the property and the loss of control by ICCN of the greater part of the property, thus encouraging an increase in poaching and in the illegal opening of mining quarries in the property. In 2006, a World Heritage Centre mission visited the property and identified poaching and illegal mining activites as main threats, and also an increase in the population established in the property and the serious impact caused by the rehabilitation of the RN4 road. At its 30th session (Vilnius, 2006), the World Heritage Committee adopted corrective measures. In 2007, at its 31st session (Christchurch, 2007), the World Heritage Committee decided (31 COM 7A.32) to apply the newly adopted reinforced monitoring mechanism to the property. At its 32nd session (Quebec, 2008), a new joint World Heritage Centre-IUCN monitoring mission was requested.
On 2 February 2009, the State Party submitted a report on the state of conservation of the property. This report contained information on progress achieved in the implementation of the corrective measures.
The monitoring mission was organised from 24 February to 2 March 2009. Based on the most recent information available, the mission was able to confirm that the extended period of conflict had had a serious negative impact on the values and integrity of the property, and in particular:
- A significant decline in the wildlife population between 1995 and 2006, with a decrease in populations varying between 26% and 59% according to the species, and a reduction of the area of the property available to wildlife. These decreases are the result of armed poaching (hunting and trapping) to supply the bush meat markets in the neighbouring urban centres;
- A significant increase in the resident population in the Reserve (an estimated 4,000 in 1995, and 17,000 recorded in 2003). This influx has caused an increase in the clearing of a greater area of the Reserve for agricultural activities around the villages. In the 1995 Development Plan, a plantation area of 1,800 hectares was foreseen, whereas currently the agricultural area is estimated at 14,000 hectares, 10% of the whole Reserve.
The mission concluded that the Outstanding Universal Value for which the Okapi Wildlife Reserve was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger was seriously degraded but that it could be entirely restored if permanent adequate management measures for the Reserve were implemented.
The mission noted that the security situation had improved considerably since 2006 and that some progress in the implementation of the corrective measures had been achieved:
a) Ensure the immediate withdrawal of military personnel of the Congolese army involved in poaching, ivory trafficking and illegal mining
Large-scale armed poaching, especially of elephants, has noticeably diminished thanks to joint operations on the part of ICCN / Congolese Army / local administration, eliminating the involvement by the military in this activity in the Reserve and noticeably reducing poaching in the peripheral areas. The problem still exists in the south-west peripheral area of the Reserve where the army, based in the Kisangani military region, remains active.
b) Close down and prevent all illegal mining operations inside the property
In 2006, more than fifty quarries for the illegal mining of coltan, diamonds and gold were recorded. Today, all these quarries have been closed down. However, although there is no longer any permanent presence in these quarries, the phenomenon of « infiltration » (irregular visits to some quarries by a small number of diggers generally working independently) persists.
c) Suspend the rehabilitation works on the RN4 and carry out a proper Environmental Impact Study
This work has in fact been suspended and a joint mission of donors, administrative officials and construction company visited the site to hold discussions with ICCN. However, the mission did not discuss the most important issues. No environmental impact study has been carried out and concrete mitigation methods advocated by ICCN, such as the strengthening of surveillance and immigration control mechanisms have not been funded. Only some technical operational aspects to limit direct environmental damage caused by the rehabilitation work have received attention.
d) Establish a trust fund for the rehabilitation of the DRC World Heritage properties
See the report on Virunga National Park (Document WHC-09/33.COM/7A).
e) Establish permanent co-operation between the political and military authorities at provincial level, MONUC, ICCN to eliminate illegal activities in and around the property
The support of politico-administrative and military authorities was a determining factor in regaining control of the entire Okapi Wildlife Reserve. This support was the result of major lobbying and the rapprochement of ICCN with local authorities, together with field visits by the military and administrative authorities, public awareness campaigns via radio and through visits to the villages. Permanent consultation structures officially recognized by the Territory Administration are also established in the six communities of Mambasa. They reinforce the involvement of local communities in the resolution of daily management problems concerning the Reserve on the one hand, and on the other, through financial incentives, they motivate and guide the local population in initiatives of community interest. Nevertheless, it is difficult to judge to what extent these good relations translate into concrete adhesion to the conservation objectives of the property and a real change in behaviour with regard to the use of natural resources.
f) In co-operation with the Government of Uganda, halt the illegal trafficking of timber, minerals and ivory across the DRC/Uganda border in north-eastern DRC
The mission noted an increased rate of encroachment through local deforestation in the area outside of the Reserve. Almost all this activity is illegal and the products are transported by road to Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya. The increase in this pressure is directly linked to the rehabilitation of the RN4. If ivory poaching inside the Okapi Wildlife Reserve now appears to be better controlled, all indicators still show that at the national level poaching of forest elephants in the DRC (to supply the international ivory traffic) remains a major problem. The mission was unable to obtain information on illegal mineral trafficking.
g) Prepare a forest zoning plan for the forest areas adjacent to the property to protect it from negative impacts resulting from unsustainable forest exploitation;
No zoning plan is available. The preparation of a zoning plan for the forest areas of the DRC, with support from the World Bank, began in 2005, but no progress has been noted. Meantime, the majority of semi-industrial « artisanal » exploitation which is not in accordance with the Forestry Code, is rapidly progressing in Ituri Forest.
h) Legalize and scale-up the pilot system put in place by ICCN to regulate and monitor immigration as well as traffic on the RN4 road, by means of a permit system with transit charges;
The strategy to regulate immigration is based partially on controlling the movement of people and vehicles using the two main entrances to the Reserve on the RN4 and on the permanent monitoring by the Immigration Control Committees (CCI), of persons residing in the villages located alongside the road. The impact of the immigration regulation mechansim is positive. The gates enable ICCN to strengthen its role of site manager and that of the CCI to encourage an increase in the level of compliance of villagers to conservation objectives, to limit misunderstandings and further settlements in the villages. However, since the rehabilitation of the RN4, traffic has increased by a factor of 25. This important increase implies additional constraints with regard to efficient control of vehicles and passengers, considering the limited resources (staff, budget) and the fact that ICCN, not authorized to close the gates at night, is under the obligation to maintain around-the-clock teams at the gates. The financial sustainability of the control system is also compromised by the impossibility of enforcing payment of the toll.
i) Take measures to reinforce and reinvigorate the guard force and to improve its efficiency;
The mission noted a clear improvement in the surveillance mechanism. Contrary to the situation in 2006, patrols have access to the entire property and an efficient patrol monitoring system is established and operational. Regular overflights enable the monitoring of areas of difficult access, the state of forest clearing and to detect infiltration in the closed-down quarries. However, trapping and snaring to supply the bush meat market remains very widespread throughout the Reserve.
In order to consolidate the encouraging progress achieved by ICCN and its partners in the preservation of the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, the mission formulated a series of recommendations that update the corrective measures adopted by the Committee in 2006, and which are integrated into the draft decision.
Prior to the preparation of the mission, the World Heritage Centre prepared, in consultation with ICCN, a draft Statement of Outstanding Universal Value which was then discussed and improved during the mission. Based on this draft, the mission prepared with the managers and partners of the property, a proposal defining the Desired state of conservation for the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger. It comprises eight indicators intended to measure the restoration of the biological values of the property, integrity and management:
- Restoration of the biological value: these indicators shall concern the forestry cover (no increase in deforestation) and the indications of increases in wildlife (positive changes in indications concerning the different species and the different zones of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve)
- Integrity and management: these indicators shall concern surveillance efforts (intensity, distribution) the level of illegal activity and the legal definition of an integrated protective area as well as the stabilisation of demographic pressure in the Reserve in relation to its current level.
The mission considered that if security conditions remain in place, and if the efforts for the implementation of the corrective measures continue, the achievement of these indicators could be attained in three years.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN are satisfied with the progress made in the implementation of the corrective measures. The re-establishment of security has enabled the start of the rehabilitation of the property. Nevertheless, the World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that the Outstanding Universal Value of the property has seriously been degraded since its inscription on the World Heritage List, with very large-scale reduction of the threatened species that justified this inscription. Consequently, it is necessary to continue efforts to achieve the regeneration of the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that the implementation of the eight indicators proposed by the mission would enable the identification of a tendency showing progress in this regeneration process. These indicators should be achieved before the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger can be envisaged.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN therefore consider that the property should be maintained on the List of World Heritage in Danger. However, in view of the progress achieved in the implementation of the corrective measures and improvement in the security situation, they consider that it is no longer necessary to apply the reinforced monitoring mechanism to this property.
To ensure the monitoring of these indicators, the World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that before end-2010, a study should be carried out to develop the methodology to be used for the 2010 inventory enabling the evaluation of tendencies in the populations of the species.