Shining a Spotlight on Garamba


Situated in the north-east corner of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Garamba National Park is one of the most critically important ecological landscapes in Africa. Once fraught with rampant poaching and devasting instability for communities, today the park is a shining example of what can be achieved when strong partnerships are formed between government, communities and effective management teams.

“The park is a continued source of safety for me and my family, and my entire community; and now one could say it is truly a source of light.” Maman Bibiane, a teacher at Institut Faradje, DRC

No more than fifty years ago Garamba was home to over 22,000 elephants, and contained the world’s largest population of northern white rhinos, resulting in the region being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. But by 2006, 95% of the region’s elephants and all of the northern white rhinos were lost. Equally tragic, local communities had endured utter devastation at the hands of militarised poachers and rebel groups, who were prepared to kill every last elephant, and anyone that stood in their way.

To stop this destruction and ensure the park, its wildlife and surrounding communities were protected and given a chance to once again thrive, the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN) invited African Parks in 2005 to manage Garamba and help create much-needed stability in the region. Despite significant challenges over the following decade, African Parks, in partnership with the ICCN and local communities, redefined Garamba’s trajectory, so that once again the park could become a place of safety where both people and wildlife can prosper. 

© Tom Parker
Elephants moving through Garamba National Park

A revised strategy to uphold national laws within the park, as well as the implementation of a sustainable development strategy were put in place and tangible results were soon felt. Through an effective law enforcement strategy using world-class technology, elephant poaching has been almost entirely eliminated, with poaching numbers declining from 98 carcasses in 2015, to three in 2022.

In addition, research to better understand pastoral dynamics and nomadic movements in the region has been undertaken to help manage and engage positively with pastoralist groups. This positive engagement has had a direct impact on improving security and biodiversity conservation in the park. As a result, over 20,000 animals from 23 species are thriving in the park including savannah species such as lion, buffalo, giraffe, Ugandan kob, as well as forest species such as chimpanzee, giant forest hog, bongo, tree pangolin, sitatunga, and golden cat. Almost all species populations are showing stable or growing numbers. In addition, the last remaining population of critically endangered Kordofan giraffe in the DRC continues to grow with over 70 individuals - a 44% increase since 2018.

With improved security it’s become possible to establish a foundation of sustainable development and invest in green energy solutions and agroecology. Garamba’s long-term sustainable development strategy has focused on stimulating agricultural practices to boost “green” economic growth. To do this community-based farming methods have been improved by phasing out shifting cultivation and replacing it with sustainable agriculture producing fruit and vegetables, honey, fish, chia, cassava, and livestock.

© Marcus Westberg
Sustainable livelihoods supported through bee-keeping projects in Garamba

A Farmer Fields School (FFS) programme has been adopted to train 350 men and women farmers by 2024 in sustainable agriculture methods. Through this approach, participants, who are selected according to specific criteria, are trained to apply sustainable techniques, including ending the use of slash and burn methods. These farmers in turn are committed to training a dozen more farmers in their community. Environmental education has also become a backbone to Garamba’s conservation approach with 450 children from 15 schools receiving weekly practical sustainable agricultural and environmental education.

Access to social services such as clinics and schools has been significantly improved. Over 10,000 people receive free health care every year, while more than 6,000 people benefit yearly from mobile health clinics servicing communities around the park.

As peace and security take hold of Garamba and its surrounding communities, benefits that before were beyond reach for thousands of people are now being realised. With the help of the European Union and GivePower, Garamba provides solar energy to households, who until this point did not have a clean, reliable energy source. As part of the solar energy programme, mini-grids were built in the towns of Faradje and Tadu in 2021, with another mini-grid planned for Dungu in 2023. So far, over 14, 000 households now have access to this clean power including small businesses, schools, hospitals, and government buildings. In addition, the subsidised sale of solar lamps and multi-light kits to rural communities in and around the park has ensured the provision of over 5,500 lamps and 1,400 kits since mid-2021 to community members.

© Blackbean
Richard Tonizo Nyeledri does his homework under a solar lamp near Garamba

The transformation that has taken place within and radiating out of Garamba in less than two decades, is nothing short of remarkable. Once a place synonymous with despair, Garamba now serves as a living symbol of progress, stability and possibility, for both people and wildlife. With this success in mind, bolstered by effective security measures, sound infrastructure and community buy-in, it has now become possible to bolster existing wildlife populations with locally extinct species through a series of carefully considered and well-planned reintroductions.

The success that has been achieved in Garamba through the African Parks’ effective management model could not have been possible without our partners including the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN), Elephant Crisis Fund, the European Union, The Wildcat Foundation, UNESCO, US Agency for International Development, US Department of State, the Rob and Melani Walton Foundation, People’s Postcode Lottery and Kibali Gold Mine.

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