21.05.2021. As agreed with the Congolese state, owner of the parks as well as of the Ngombé forest, INTERHOLCO is required to secure the area against unauthorised settlement, illegal harvesting, poaching, bushmeat trade and irreversible change.
“We patrol the forest against illegal activities,” affirms Mr. BOKANDZA. “Also, we ensure that company vehicles are not used by poachers. Regular checkpoints make sure that those that drive into the forest are not complicit in illegal activities.” Mr. BOKANDZA coordinates the activities of 40 eco-guards in the Ngombé forest.
Forest inhabitants have the legal right to traditionally hunt for their livelihood, except protected animals such as gorilla and forest elephant. Poaching occurs when forest inhabitants no longer hunt solely for their households, but to resell the meat. Problems arise when demand for bushmeat in nearby towns or animal trade to foreign countries turn poaching into an attractive source of revenue. This trend unfortunately did not come to a halt during the pandemic, when USLAB rescued 40 dwarf crocodiles.
“Sometimes the eco-guards catch poachers and hand them over to the relevant authorities, yet after a while nothing happens,” underlines Roch N’ZOBO, Director of Congolese NGO CDHD. “This sparks a deep sense of frustration which must be dealt with in the right way in order to prevent violence,” he goes on to explain.
To pre-empt conflict risk, INTERHOLCO organises regular training courses for the eco-guards along with its security personnel (local guards who are unarmed). Such trainings are especially useful to harmonise best practice between the eco-guards in the Ngombé forest and the eco-guards from Odzala Kokoua National Park.
Mr N’ZOBO acts as training facilitator, explaining how human rights must be protected and the importance of not yielding to violent behaviour. Also, it is made clear that INTERHOLCO has zero-tolerance for abuse of authority, discrimination or corruption; with breaches having disciplinary and, if applicable, legal consequences. In 2020, 20 eco-guards took part in the training course facilitated by CDHD, in addition to management staff and members of IFO’s social team.
Together, the Ntokou-Pikounda National Park and the Ngombé concession host app. 80’000 Western lowland gorillas, i.e. 60% of the gorilla population is present in the Republic of Congo. In addition, natural forests in the North of Congo are home to approximately 25% of the total remaining forest elephant population and a broad variety of rare and threatened animals.
Surveys carried out by Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in 2007 and 2014 and studies by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in 2009 confirmed that gorillas and forest elephants are effectively protected in the Ngombé forest concession. WCS found that the numbers and distribution of animals remained stable over the observation period. Gorillas and forest elephants move freely between the Ngombé forest concession and neighbouring national parks.
Postponed owing to COVID-19, a new animal survey is to take place as soon as the requisite funding is secured, in collaboration with a conservation NGO. This time, the survey will adopt a different scientific methodology i.e. camera traps placed in the forest.
Mr. José Blanchard BOKANDZA heads the USLAB (French acronym standing for ‘Surveillance and Anti-Poaching Unit’), acting as coordinator of 40 law-enforcing eco-guards that patrol the forest managed by INTERHOLCO through its subsidiary IFO, in the Northern part of the Republic of Congo.
IFO’s management and environmental unit maintain close links with Mr. Bokandza, providing him with technical assistance and any information collected in the field that may prove useful in carrying out USLAB missions.
The establishment of USLAB is provided for in the agreements signed by INTERHOLCO with the Congolese state. The state is responsible for the sovereign missions of territorial surveillance and the fight against poaching. USLAB agents are made available to IFO by the Ministry of Forest Economy and report directly to Agence Congolaise de la faune et des aires protégées (ACFAP, or Congolese Agency for Wildlife and Protected Areas). IFO is responsible for the proper logistical functioning of the USLAB.
Communications contact INTERHOLCO
Tullia Baldassarri Höger von Högersthal
INTERHOLCO AG, Schutzengelstr. 36, 6340 Baar, Switzerland
Tel.: +41 (0)41 767 03 82