The Great Southern Bioblitz: Odzala-Kokoua National Park

“The more we encounter our biodiversity, the better we will be able to conserve it.”  

Gloire Kibongui, Research and Monitoring Assistant, Odzala-Kokoua National Park 

Odzala-Kokoua National Park in the Republic of Congo, lies in the heart of the Congo Basin, and is recognised as one of the most biologically diverse and species-rich areas on the planet. With much research still to be done in the remote and dense rain forests of Odzala, the park staff, together with partners, undertook to get to the bottom of just how many species actually exist in this little-known region of central Africa. Joining forces, the team participated in the Great Southern Bioblitz and came away with some interesting results, albeit just a scratch on the surface of this vast and mysterious landscape.  

In November 2023, Odzala-Kokoua National Park and its tourism partners, Kamba Africa and Lawanda Tours and Adventure, participated in the global event,  The Great Southern Bioblitz (GSB). The GSB is an annual event that brings together people from countries at least partially in the southern hemisphere to find and record as many species as possible in a four-day period. During the GSB, participants record observations of any animal, plant or fungal life using photos or audio recordings, before uploading them to the application iNaturalist. iNaturalist is a global, biodiversity-focused, citizen science platform that is used to record biodiversity observations and communicate with other like-minded nature enthusiasts and researchers. All African Parks managed parks host projects on iNaturalist, which collate species lists and feed into global biodiversity databases. Odzala created a specific GSB project to monitor the number of observations and number of species found during the event. 

As the only representative from west and central Africa, the GSB was a great opportunity for Odzala staff to showcase the park’s rich biodiversity and further add to species lists. Approximately forty participants were trained and actively participated during the GSB event. 

Observing Nature in Action

© Team Odzala-Kokoua National Park

Staff training and capacity building was key to the success of the GSB. Technical training ensured that our team leaders knew how to accurately record and identify biodiversity observations on iNaturalist, which will also be used on an ongoing basis. Participating teams, while focused on building technological capacity and ecological identification skills in the field, were also immersed in and opened to the wonder of the natural world around them. 

The park set up a series of activities during the GSB that covered six main locations across Odzala. Small groups were engaged in nature walks, taking care to notice things like ants marching along a fallen log; a mushroom standing proudly amongst the rotting leaf litter or fruiting trees reaching high in the canopy. Others participated in bai (natural clearings in the forest) observations, watching the western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) wash muddy plant shoots before consuming them, and using night-vision cameras to find elusive nocturnal species such as the bongo (Tragelaphus eurycerus). Evening light traps attracted an array of moth-life, while camera traps placed along roads and in trees captured fleeting bird life, skulking spotted hyaenas (Crocuta crocuta) and dozens of roaming forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis). One of the most exciting activities included aerial surveys, which helped in spotting hippo (Hippopotamus amphibius) and African grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus). 

Results and Impacts

Representing the only contributors from the Congo Basin, Odzala teams recorded a total of 568 species and 2,323 observations! This placed them in 29th position out of 202 registered areas worldwide and in 14th position out of 37 areas in Africa. Nearly half of their species count was made up of insects at 245 species, and 67 of these were different species of butterfly. Odzala was also the only organisation in the GSB to record both gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) and chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) in the same registered area. All observations made can be found in their online iNaturalist GSB project. 

The Odzala team contribution to the GSB was significant with some first-time iNaturalist recordings for the park. This included the well-camouflaged Fernando Po Toad (Sclerophrys tuberosa) found by one of the bai observation teams close to Moba Pool, the Red-tailed Ant Thrush (Neocossyphus rufus) captured by a camera trap placed by Gildas Ngama in the tree canopy at Imbalanga base, and the African Map Butterfly (Cyrestis camillus) which was taken by Kerri Dupreez, a guide from the Kamba team. 

Written By: Emily Rampling, Research and Monitoring Volunteer @ African Parks 

26 February 2023

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