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Protections for Africa’s rainforests aren’t working for people or wildlife: report

  • Rainforest Foundation UK researchers examined 34 protected areas across the Congo Basin, from Cameroon and the Central African Republic to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon and the Republic of Congo.
  • Of the 34 protected areas the RFUK team studied, 26 have displaced local people and 21 have seen conflicts between park managers and local communities. Meanwhile, wildlife poaching continues to increase.
  • RFUK also released a short film about forest communities affected by the Tumba Lediima Reserve in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A new report by the Rainforest Foundation UK found that protections for Africa’s tropical forests are failing to actually protect biodiversity and forest communities.

In recent years, hundreds of millions of dollars have flowed to conservation initiatives in the Congo Basin region, but biodiversity continues to decline and communities living in or around protected areas see them as a threat to their lives and livelihoods, according to the report.

Simon Counsell, executive director of Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK) and a co-author of the report, said that the rights of local communities need to take precedence if Congo Basin conservation efforts are to succeed.

“The current approach to protecting rainforests is not only unfair on local communities, but also ineffective in protecting nature,” he said in a statement.

“A new, more sustainable, form of conservation is needed in Africa’s rainforests which works with local people to secure their rights and protect their environment, rather than working against them. International donors need to carefully consider whether their support to strict forest preservation is currently effective.”

RFUK also released a short film about forest communities affected by the Tumba Lediima Reserve in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which was established by the DRC’s protected areas agency in collaboration with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). You can watch it here:

Counsell and team examined 34 protected areas across the Congo Basin, from Cameroon and the Central African Republic to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon and the Republic of Congo. They say they found little evidence that the “guns and guards” approach currently employed in protected areas was achieving the desired results. In fact, they found that aggressive enforcement has led to conflicts and widespread human rights abuses.

Of the 34 protected areas the RFUK team studied, 26 have displaced local people and 21 have seen conflicts between park managers and local communities. Locals were not consulted prior to the creation of 18 of the protected areas included in the study.

Meanwhile, biodiversity in the region continues to decline, due largely to rampant poaching.

“[O]ur study shows that poaching persists widely and large mammal populations, in particular, are declining at alarming rates (especially elephant, bongo, gorilla and chimpanzee), in spite of strong restrictions on access and use of protected areas, and high investments and efforts in security patrols and eco-guards,” the RFUK researchers wrote in the report.

Anti-poaching measures, the report suggests, have disproportionately targeted local communities, even while development activities like logging and mining take place in and around protected rainforest areas.

“We are calling on those directly involved in protected area management in the Congo Basin to ensure that conservation projects in the region do not cause the displacement or abuse of the rights of some of the poorest people on the planet,” Counsell said.

Photo by Rainforest Foundation UK.