New National Park In The Congo Will Protect Lowland Gorillas

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is hailing the creation of a new national park in the Republic of Congo as a major step towards protecting western lowland gorillas. The park, which was officially created on December 28 of last year, is believed to be the home of more than 15,000 of the creatures, which have been on the “critically endangered” list for many years.

Located in the northern region of the country, the Ntokou-Pikounda National Park spreads out over 1765 square miles. The interior of the forest is said to be so dense that explorer J. Michael Fay, who spent 455 days walking across the region back in 1999, once called it a “green abyss.” The lush rainforest is the perfect place for the gorillas to make their home, however, and they share the new preserve with an estimated 8000 elephants and nearly a thousand chimpanzees – two other species who face extinction as well.

Because the park is still so new, there isn’t a significant tourism infrastructure built up around the destination just yet. But the region is home to a number of small villages and towns, which hope to see a boost to the local economies in the future. Tourism dollars have been used effectively in nearby Rwanda and Uganda to not only improve conditions for the people that live there, but also fund conservation efforts for gorillas and other animals.

When the WCS visited the Republic of Congo back in 2008 they were surprised to find a population of 125,000 gorillas living in remote regions there. But the species continues to come under threat from increased deforestation, illegal poaching and the Ebola virus, which has been known to decimate gorilla populations. The creation of this new park should help ensure that the lowland gorillas that live there will have a measure of protection for the future.

[Photo Credit: Fred Hsu via WikiMedia]

Saving elephants in Chad

Central Africa is one of the last regions with a sizable population of African elephant, but their numbers are only a fraction of what they used to be. In Zakouma National Park in Chad there are an estimated 600 elephants. Twenty years ago there were 40,000.

Zakouma takes up 3,000 square kilometers of savanna in southern Chad and has populations of elephants, giraffes, lions, cranes, and other animals. It’s the number one tourist destination in the country and the government is trying to preserve the wildlife for the sake of the tourist industry

Nomadic tribes passing through the region hunt the elephants with AK-47s. Ivory sells for about $40 a kilo in Chad, a country where the average annual income is $530. In other words, one good tusk is worth a year’s wages. The ivory is exported to more developed nations for jewelry or folk medicines, especially China.

Armed guards patrol the park, but it’s a huge area to cover and poachers won’t hesitate to murder them if they get in the way. Ten guards have been killed defending the elephants. Now there are about seventy guards in the park and they’ve been given new training and weapons. The Wildlife Conservation Society helps out by monitoring the elephant populations, and giving monetary support and air reconnaissance. Like the Giraffe Conservation Foundation in Niger, an NGO and the government of a developing country are working together to save some of Africa’s most amazing wildlife. I hope they succeed. My four-year-old loves elephants and I want them to still be around when he’s my age.

Photos of the park and conservation efforts can be seen here.

Safaris in Kenya hurt by drought

Safaris in Kenya are being impacted by a three year drought that has dessicated the landscape and killed many animals.

In Samburu National Reserve, elephants are dying for lack of food and other species such a zebra and crocodiles are also suffering. Some are moving out of the area and away from visitor’s eyes in search of water. Local herders are hurting too as they have to search harder to find forage for their herds. This has led to increased poaching as locals struggle to feed their families.

The arid grassland of Samburu National Reserve does not have sufficient ground water to handle a long-term drought and much of the land has dried up and become sand. As one of Kenya’s lesser-known reserves, it usually offers abundant wildlife and a less crowded safari experience. Safaris are still taking place, but visitors will be getting a hard lesson in the fragility of the environment along with their pictures of beautiful animals.

Kenyan safari lets travelers become lion researchers

An African safari is a seminal travel experience. Early morning game drives, amazing wildlife, beautiful sunsets over the savannah, they’re all part of the experience. But tour operator Gamewatchers Safaris is offering something even more unique with a new option for travelers to take part in actual lion research while on their vacation in Kenya.

The nine-day adventure begins with a trip to Joy’s Camp, where famous naturalist and author Joy Adamson did research of her own with her equally famous lioness pal Elsa. Adamson’s story became a world wide phenomenon thanks to the book and film Born Free, and visitors will have the opportunity to wander the same territory, while helping modern day researchers track radio collared lions and observe their behavior. They’ll actually have the opportunity to interact with scientists and conservationists as they go about their work, while getting an upclose look at these beautiful predators. And after seven days in Joy’s Camp, it’s off too the Maasai Mara, on the northern Serengeti, where travelers will spend another three days at Porini Camp, observing more lions, as well as plenty of other wildlife, such as zebras, elephants, and wildebeest.

Over the past twenty years, the lion population in Africa has declined by an estimated 30-50%, and scientists have struggled to understand exactly why. While on this safari, travelers will have an opportunity to contribute to the research being done to solve this mystery, and perhaps even begin to turn the trend around. Besides helping to conduct research however, 5% of the cost of the trip will also be donated to the research program being conducted by Ecotourism at it’s best, with travelers giving something back to ensure that future generations can enjoy the same experiences.

Endangered spaces: Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania is an amazing place. The UNESCO World Heritage Site was formed when the caldera of a large volcano collapsed, creating a self contained ecosystem in the process, with dozens of species of animals living within the 2000 foot walls.

Tourists have flocked to the region for years due to the spectacular game viewing options, which include large numbers of zebras, elephants and gazelles, not to mention lions, and the very rare black rhino. The crater is a mere 102-square miles in size, and yet there are few areas on the planet that offer the variety of wildlife within such a relatively small area. But that small, self-contained space is now endangered thanks to the number of visitors that make the journey each year.

National Geographic Adventure is reporting that the increased traffic to the Crater is putting an undeniable strain on the environment there. The article says that back in the 1970’s, there were generally no more than three or four vehicles inside the Crater at any given time. But now, during peak season, there can be as many 300 trucks patrolling the roads, and this overcrowding is putting a strain on the system. The story also notes that an estimated 64,000 people live within the Ngornogro Conservation Area, a number that is twice as high as the region was expected to support. All of this traffic has caused UNESCO to caution conservation officials in Tanzania that they may be forced to add the Crater to their “danger list”, which has raised some calls for quotas on the number of visitors allowed in each day.

I had the opportunity to visit Ngorngoro a couple of years back, and it was easily as spectacular as I had heard. The views from the crater rim are amazing, and there is wildlife at every turn. But I went in April, which is traditionally seen as the low season, and even then it was crowded and busy by mid-morning. I remember thinking to myself that if this was the low season, I wouldn’t want to experience it in the busier times.