WCS Congo

Mondika Research Centre & Djeke Triangle

Mondika Research Center & Djéké Triangle Ecotourism Project

In 1995 the Mondika Research Center was created by Professor Diane Doran from Stony Brook University. in New York in order to better understand the socio-ecology of western lowland gorillas. Mondika is located the border of NNNP and the Dzanga-Ndoki National Park in the Central African Republic [approximately 20km north of Bomassa (NNNP HQ) and 5km west of the NNNP border]. It is situated within the Djeke Triangle, a 10,000 hectare forest block in the Kabo logging concessions that has been set aside for conservation by the CIB logging company following negotiations by the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The Djeke Triangle is one of the last fully intact forest blocks that connects all three protected areas in the Sangha Trinational (TNS), thus forming an important conservation corridor for populations of large mammals and in particular great apes. The Djeke Triangle has never been logged,has no human settlements and has a very high density of western gorillas (over 4 gorillas per km2).

In 1998 one gorilla group, located within the study site, was targeted for habituation. The group is called the Kingo group, named after its silverback, Kingo Ya Bole (“the load voice”). In 2001 Kingo group was reliably followed on a daily basis and was considered to be fully habituated to human presence briefly after.

After much knowledge was acquired on the socio-ecology of Kingo group, Mondika’s director ran out of funding. In 2005, WCS agreed to take over the management of the site in order to initiate an eco-tourism program to support its conservation efforts. In February 2007 the eco-tourism project was launched and Kingo received his first tourist visitors. The funds accrued from the eco-tourism program provide important funding for the conservation goals of the NNNP, and most notably help to pay for the salaries of park staff.

The next logical step at Mondika was to habituate a second group of gorillas that shared Kingo’s home-range. This was important in order to learn how these gorillas share an over-lapping home-range and also to learn what impacts the differences in demography have on the gorilla’s social behavior. Having a second group also increases Mondika’s tourist capacity. In February 2008 the habituation process of a second group of gorillas named after its silverback, Buka Mokongo, was initiated. Due to the experience gained during the habituation of our first group, Kingo, this process took about half the time and the group was considered fully habituated in January 2011.

Mondika provides an important additional tourism and research activity in combination with Mbeli Bai, and the opportunity for a completely different gorilla experience including lodging in the rain forest. The Djéké Triangle is also rich in other primate species, including 10 species of diurnal monkey. A group of agile mangabeys and grey-cheeked mangabeys have already been habituated in the study zone as part of a previous research program and therefore offer potential for developing secondary ecotourism activities to complement gorilla tracking in a sensory rich, forest immersion experience. The availability of a tourist package has made the Republic of Congo, and Mondika in particular, an international destination not only for tourism but also for research, media (journalists, photographers, and film crews including representatives of National Geographic and the BBC), further promoting support for gorilla conservation globally. Mondika has been the subject of several wildlife documentaries and articles that extend this conservation message internationally (eg. http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/01/lowland-gorilla-family/ian-nichols-photography.html).

The Ecotourism Project is complemented by research on ranging patterns, activity patterns, social behavior and other aspects that provide baseline data on a pretty much unstudied species. This data guides our ecotourism activities. Our research therefore complements knowledge from the Mbeli Bai Study (another WCS project)where researchers collect detailed data on the social organization, life history patterns and other important demographics of several groups since 1995 (see link).

Our goal is to strengthen long-term support for western lowland gorilla conservation in and around Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park by increasing our knowledge of the behavioural and socio-ecology of habituated gorillas, developing and reinforcing ecotourism in order to increase the economic value of the NNNP,creating revenue for local communities living in the periphery of the NNNP, raising awareness on a national and international level, providing employment for former poachers, and habitat protection.

Our research concentrates on the following aspects:

  • Tracking individual life history data from two habituated groups (birth and mortality rates, inter-birth intervals) (see attached group composition) Kingo ID cards.pdf
  • Activity patterns (including feeding ecology) of two habituated gorillas groups
  • Long-term ranging patterns (see attached ranging file) Ranging patterns of Kingo and Buka group.pdf
  • Within and between-group interactions
  • Comparative health monitoring in NNNP 

Our ecotourism activities concentrate on the following aspects:

  • Provide well-trained program personnel to track the existing gorilla groups in an effective and efficient manner
  • Hospitality training of research assistants, cooks and tourist guides (including information exchange about gorilla conservation topics)
  • Maintain and improve the existing ecological and botanical trail, including signage and educational materials which allows visitors to understand how gorillas interact with their environment (Mondika_Ecological_Trail_final dp.pdf)
  • Update and improve the human and gorilla health monitoring (including regular physical examinations and medical treatment) according to the IUCN best practice guidelines for great ape monitoring (see link to health guidelines:  http://www.primate-sg.org/best_practice_tourism/)

And providean effective deterrent to poaching at the study site (including a permanent ecoguardpresence) and anearly alarm system to the national park authority.

           

Future activities:

Our next major step at Mondika will be to begin the habituation of a third group of gorillas, so that in the unfortunate event that either Kingo or Buka’s group disintegrates we will have a back-up plan in order to prevent a lapse in research and tourism.Knowing that it takes a minimum of three years to habituate a group of western lowland gorillas it is EXTREMELY important that we begin the habituation process of the third group as soon as possible.

Latest Publications

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Key Staff

Thomas Breuer
Project Director

Contact

WCS Congo Program
B.P. 14537 Brazzaville, Republic of Congo
+(242) 05 722 7411

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