Upemba National Park, DR.Congo

Upemba National Park is one of the oldest national parks of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was first established in May 1939 on the basis of a Belgian royal decree with an area of ​​1.75 millions hectares because of its high value in biodiversity. It is home to some 1.800 different species, including lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo, and the Katanga impala which is endemic to the park. Upemba is the only national park in DRC with zebra and cheetah populations. The habitat of the park varies from grassland at higher altitudes, through forests, woodlands, to lakes and wetlands at lowest altitudes. Since 1993, its valley of the Lufira, from the fall of Kyubo to the junction with the Congo river at Kitembo, has been designated a UNESCO Biodiversity Reserve due to its a large concentration of mammals, reptiles, batrachians, birds, fish and a vast wetland.

The Upemba National Park is confronted with many threats ranging from poaching, illegal settlements and the presence of illegal permits to mining and hydroelectric interests. While the park is lacking technical and financial resources to minimize the threats, rangers are risking their lives to save the last remaining elephant population of Katanga. Parts of Upemba have also been taken over by the Mai Mai groups– a local heavily armed group- and far better equipped than the park staff who have very little equipment or support. In December 2012, Atamato Madrandele, Chief Warden of Upemba National Park, was ambushed and killed by Mai-Mai militia. Since the assassination of Atamato, the Park saw poaching gain momentum.

In February 2017 the Forgotten Parks Foundation signed a public, private partnership agreement with the Congolese government to rehabilitate and manage the Upemba national park under the Upemba & Kundelungu national park complex. Protecting DRC’s threatened national parks does not come without risks. National parks are continuously facing severe threats and are damaged by encroaching human activities including extractive industries –oil and mining, logging, poaching, dams and infrastructure. Rangers, as much as nature, need our help to protect these last remaining wild places for future generations and the sustainable development of the populations living around.