Community Reserves in a Retreating Environment

Categories: Journal no. 65, Rain Forest, Ecology, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eastern gorillas

Rain forest in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (© Matti Barthel)

The natural forests in western North Kivu province and Maniema province, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, are very rich in biodiversity of both animal and plant species. While the Virunga, Maiko and Kahuzi-Biega national parks are under the protection of ICCN (Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation), the organisation in charge of protected areas in the DRC, the majority of the forest outside these national parks has remained without legal protection for quite some time.

Between 1998 and 2004, several local communities in forested areas, anxious to protect the biodiversity of their forests, set about creating community reserves with a view to protecting their natural resources, focussing particularly on lowland gorillas and chimpanzees. Over those 6 years, 9 community reserves were created in these two provinces.

North Kivu

  • Tayna Gorilla Reserve (RGT, 1998)
  • Bakumbule Primate Community Reserve (RECOPRIBA, 2001), now called Kisimba-Ikobo Primate Reserve (RPKI)
  • Bakano Forest Reserve for Community Conservation (COCREFOBA, 2002)
  • Usala Gorilla Reserve (RGU, 2002)
  • Utunda and Wassa Gorilla Reserve (REGOUWA, 2003). In recent years, the small reserves making up REGOUWA have changed their name to RENGYIT.
  • Primates and Forests of Lowa Community Reserve (RECOPRIFOL, 2003)


  • Punia Gorilla Reserve (RGPU, 2002)
  • Mukingiti and Kingombe Gorilla Reserve (REGOMUKI, 2003)
  • Lubutu Gorilla Reserve (REGOLU, 2004)

Since 1998, the concept of community forests managed by the local population has spread throughout the eastern provinces of the Congo, leading to the creation of these reserves. But not one of these nine reserves has received sufficient support. Those reserves which are accessible because they are near navigable roads have received some support from partners and international NGOs. Those reserves which are more difficult to access receive no support, despite their activities on the ground. What they are able to accomplish without support is far from guaranteeing the survival of the great apes (gorillas and chimpanzees) and other large mammals in their areas.

We are presenting here information about three community reserves in areas which are difficult to access.

Usala Gorilla Reserve (RGU)

The Usala Gorilla Reserve or the Usala Community Forest was created by a team of customary chieftains and local landowners under the leadership of Sultan Eric Mwaka Wa Eliba, who became the managers.

The management is on two levels - the administrative council, made up of chieftains from across the area and forming the decision-making unit, and the co-ordination unit dealing with the daily activities comprising technical staff.

This structure operates for the moment under the terms of Provincial Order No. 016/CAB/GP-NK/2010 of 22 April 2010 which gives it provisional authority, the act of a sympathetic national Minister of the Environment and Nature Conservation.

The RGU is in the equatorial zone, characterised by lowlands as well as mountains. Its altitude varies between 500 and 2020 m above sea level. It is located in the Usala village grouping in the Wanianga sector in Walikale territory, North Kivu province, with the River Lindi to the north, REGOUWA to the south, RGT and RPKI to the east and Maiko National Park to the west. It has an area of 115,200 hectares. It is drained by several rivers with plentiful fish such as the Lindi, Mandaye, Lubuli, Hunde, Bilate, Rwemo, Kiruchi, Tamaria, Roombo and Ubangire.

Traces found in the Usala Reserve during a 20 km foot patrol

13Gorilla beringei graueri (Grauer's gorilla)0.65
23Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii (eastern chimpanzee)1.15
7Okapia johnstoni (okapi)0.35
21Orycteropus afer (aardvark)1.05
31Hyemoschus aquaticus (fanged deer)12.7
54Potamochoerus porcus (bush pig)2.7
65Cephalophus dorsalis (bay duiker)3.25
5Panthera pardus (leopard)0.25
8Cercopithecus hamlyni (owl-faced monkey)0.4
16Cercopithecus l'hoesti (L'Hoest's monkey)0.8
4Kinixys erosa (forest hinge-back tortoise)0.2

Gorillas, chimpanzees and other flagship animals: The existing research on gorillas and chimpanzees dates from 2014. There have been no updates since then. At that time there were 0.797 gorillas per km², about 918 in the reserve, and 0.072 chimpanzees per km², 83 in the reserve.

These data do not seem very conclusive, however. There could have been many more in the reserve. In 2019 a patrol team noticed high concentrations of these animals, although no numbers were given, only locations. In June 2022 a team monitoring a very small part of the reserve, with a foot patrol of 20 km:

Management objectives:

  1. to protect biodiversity, particularly animal species threatened with extinction (gorillas, chimpanzees, etc.)
  2. to promote rural development,
  3. to promote scientific research and tourism,
  4. to introduce the concept of conservation to the local population through community-based activities,
  5. to promote the participation of the local population in nature conservation.


  1. illegal activities in the reserve: poaching, tree-felling to expand agricultural areas, gold mining and the search for minerals,
  2. the critical shortage of financing for the organisation of patrols, the lack of field equipment and infrastructure such as housing for trackers and rangers,
  3. funding of activities: young volunteers are growing and selling cassava, and the money raised is used to organise sensitisation missions and monitoring of the reserve.

Kisimba-Ikobo Primate Reserve (RPKI)

Like the Usala Reserve, RPKI was set up in 2001 by traditional chiefs and local landowners, and it has the same objectives. It covers an area of 200,000 hectares. A 2014 survey showed a density of 0.422 gorillas and 0.05 chimpanzees per km², with an estimated total of 845 gorillas and 100 chimpanzees in the reserve.

There are two ranger stations inside this reserve, and no villages. The reserve also suffers from a critical lack of financial support for patrols, trackers, and educators.

Loya Wandi Community Reserve for Development (FLOWADE)

FLOWADE is situated to the north of the central sector of Maiko National Park. It was set up in 2012 at Opienge. Its mission is 'Conservation for All by All'. Its objectives are the same as for the Usala Reserve.

The co-ordination centre is at Angamapasa, a village on the traditional route connecting Opienge and Loya. The reserve has never received any support. A single mission in the whole of the northern part of the central sector was financed by ICCN for sensitisation. The reserve needs support in the form of field equipment, rations for the patrols and to increase motivation for the trackers to contribute to the documentation of gorillas in this part of the forest.

The activities of this reserve focus mainly on the following:

  • educating the population on primate conservation and promoting the voluntary surrender of 12-gauge shotguns,
  • monitoring gorilla groups near the abandoned ranger post at Loya, along the Loyanje stream and in the Lukumwe and Ndufa hills. Numerous gorillas lived in this area between 1989 and 1993, but now only one to four individuals have been recorded there.
  • monitoring chimpanzees in the Mube and Ndonga hills.

Monitoring is conducted for only about 45 days per year, which is not frequent enough. The area was not surveyed in 2014. The work done by Claude Sikubwabo and John Hart between 1989 and 1992 provided some information about flora and fauna in that part of the forest. However, thirty years later, with ongoing wars and unrest, this information is out-of-date and may no longer be accurate. An update is urgently needed.

To sum up, community conservation by the local population is a very good initiative. The natural resources and ecosystems can be protected by local efforts. We must support these initiatives because without appropriate funding, especially for the less accessible sites, it is difficult to guarantee the long-term health of the ecosystems and their biodiversity.

Claude Sikubwabo Kiyengo and Papy Kabaya Mahamudi Eustache