Lac Télé Community Reserve

Created in 2001, Congo’s only community reserve forms part of a unique landscape spanning two countries, The Lac Télé - Lac Tumba Congo Basin Forest Partnership Priority Landscape. The reserve, managed by the Ministry of Forest Economy (MEF) in partnership with WCS Congo, consists of seventy percent wetland, making it the world’s largest swamp-forest, largest Ramsar site, and second largest wetland. Lac Télé Community Reserve covers 4400 km2 between the Sangha and Oubangui rivers, which seasonally flood the area’s swamp-forest, grassland and floating prairies; and pump water into the area’s lakes, ponds and tributaries. An ‘island’ of terra firma lies at the heart of the reserve, forming key habitat for gorillas. The landscape includes extraordinary biodiversity: the highest known densities of gorillas in the world, large populations of chimpanzees, as well as the full panoply of other Congo forest creatures and an incredible diversity of fish and plants.

Around 20,000 people live in the Lac Télé Community Reserve. Although population density is relatively low compared to many other regions and protected areas in the Congo Basin, these communities depend heavily on the reserve’s natural resources for fish, agriculture, construction materials, canoes, and medicines. As the main stakeholders in this conservation area, the people of the region play an important role in managing the natural resources of the reserve. The impact of this region on the Congo Basin’s climate, river flow, and carbon sequestration (in both hardwood and peat) is likely huge though poorly understood. As such, efforts to put in place sustainable environmental programs that will safeguard this crucial area, while improving the livelihoods of the remote communities it harbours, have been bolstered and are a priority for the WCS Congo program in the coming years.


Conservation Challenges

o   Commercial hunting, overfishing and wildlife trafficking: Elephants are specifically targeted for their ivory, while several other mammal species are hunted for the commercial bushmeat market. Bushmeat is no longer consumed locally alone, but also transported away from the area to supply an increasing demand in urban areas as far away as Kinshasa. Wildlife trafficking of live animals threatens several species such as African Grey Parrots and African Fish Eagles. Recent surveys suggest that the water bodies of the region are becoming depleted due to overfishing, again to supply urban markets further afield.

o   Deforestation: Deforestation is concentrated along the rivers and in the terra firma areas of the landscape. Although forest clearing is currently small scale, mostly for slash and burn agriculture and firewood collection, the overall impact is detrimental and can be expected to increase as road networks in the area expand, bringing more people into the region. An increasing frequency of bushfires, particularly given future climate change, coupled with drier forests, could threaten the Reserve’s enormous peat reserves.

 

Goals

In order to effectively manage this large, remote protected area together with local stakeholders, WCS Congo is focusing on the following strategies: 

o   The implementation of an improved management plan aimed at strengthening protected area management capacity and law enforcement.

o   Working with local governance groups to ensure sustainable, locally-based decision making can provide a genuine contribution to safeguarding local resources for the people of the reserve

 o   Promoting sustainable artisanal use of natural resources, particularly fish, and ensuring livelihoods can provide sufficient benefits to improve wellbeing of men and women

 

Activities

Strengthening protected area management and law enforcement

A management plan is currently being developed, with the engagement of all relevant stakeholders and the use of biological and socio-economic information on the area, in order to establish how best to manage this important protected area. In the interim, awareness is being raised in resident communities on the location of reserve boundaries. A local governing body, directed by democratically elected board members, is actively facilitating the representation of all villages in the management of the reserve. This body raises awareness about sustainable natural resource use and the distribution of different land use types. Transparency on the location of ‘no offtake’ zones will help avoid conflicts and a negative perception of the reserve by local communities.

To tackle the expanding threats to the area’s wildlife, WCS Congo, in partnership with the Government of Congo, are recruiting and training rangers to patrol and protect the landscape and its wildlife. A core objective of this project is providing rangers with training on the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART) to collect data on patrol coverage, the extent of illegal wildlife extraction, as well as the distribution of wildlife in the area. This data then feeds back into the anti-poaching strategy of the area in order to better monitor and adapt law-enforcement activities, and intelligently patrol the landscape. Checkpoints have also been established on the landscape’s transport routes so that vehicles on access roads can be checked for illegal wildlife products.

Improving the livelihoods of local communities

The region of Congo in which Lac Télé lies is extremely remote and the communities in this area have little access to basic civil services and often struggle with poor governance.. Livelihoods experts working with the Lac Télé team have helped to determine basic needs in the communities which are currently not being met that WCS could play a role in facilitating. Supporting these needs could have a significant impact on household wellbeing, relationships with the reserve authorities and, in many cases,  have direct impact on natural resource use.  Once good relations have been fostered, WCS Congo will be better placed to advance and intensify anti-poaching and anti-trafficking activities with increased cooperation from local communities. Moreover, to ensure that these benefits result in a conservation impact, it is necessary to implement a program of community agreements with the associations and governance systems to ensure that certain criteria regarding protected area management are followed and regularly monitored.

“Shifting norms in such a remote and poor area can be difficult as the risk of investing in change is large. Farming co-operatives or associations provide a good model to facilitate change as the risk is spread and thus reduced, allowing people to more easily try out new farming practices.” – Norbert Gami – Socio-Economics Expert, WCS Congo.



Twenty-seven villages are located in or around the Lac Télé Community Reserve, depending heavily on its natural resources. Wildlife has been over-exploited in the area, largely to supply the demand for the commercial bushmeat market in urban areas within Congo and further abroad, a demand that is rising due to industrialisation and increased wealth. This has a negative impact on the regions’ wildlife and will increasingly impact the protein that local communities that have historically depended on. To deal with these issues, WCS is engaging with community members involved in the bushmeat trade and working to provide alternative forms of income including: the development and implementation of a cocoa conservation management program; sustainable fisheries and commerce of dried fish; and a micro-credit program. It is hoped these initiatives will not only help people generate a stable income, but also provide a good starting point for improved relationships, and therefore improved cooperation with the reserve.

Promoting sustainable artisanal livelihoods:

Culturally, the people of Lac Télé rely more on fish than bushmeat for their protein intake, with socio-economic surveys showing that 80% of the population has this preference. However, fish is becoming increasingly rare, and as a result people are often shifting consumption to bushmeat. It is therefore important to support local, sustainable management of fish stocks, thus to ensuring the continuing availability of a culturally important protein source, and an ecologically important buffer against bushmeat consumption. A recent assessment by our fisheries consultant found that the area’s fish stock is shrinking considerably while the number of fishers is increasing. He also noted the reluctance of fishers to change their fishing methods. Following these insights, we have put supported the development of a sustainable fisheries management plan in collaboration with fisherwomen and men and government authorities. Using this plan as a framework, we will support fisherwomen and men to establish local governance of fisheries activities, helping empower them to be able to claim exclusive access over key fishing grounds, and provide technical assistance in identifying and protecting important fish spawning grounds, amongst other activities.


USAID/ CARPE-CDNP
WCS Congo Program
B.P. 14537 Brazzaville, Republic of Congo
+(242) 05 722 7411