Salonga National Park
Salonga National Park is Africa’s largest tropical rainforest national park located in the Congo River basin. It stretches into the provinces of Bandundu, Equateur, Kasaï Occidental and Kasaï Oriental. The Salonga is a remote wilderness, primarily accessible by water or air. It is comprised of two land blocks of roughly equal size, separated by a 40 km corridor.
Conveniently situated at the heart of the central basin of the River Congo, Salonga National Park was established /founded as the Tshuapa National Park in 1956, and attained its current frontiers with a 1970 presidential decree by President Mobutu Sese Seko. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984 and in 1999, it was included in the list of World heritage in Danger due to the civil war which affected the Easter part of DR Congo.
The vast Salonga National Park spanning on an estimated area of 36,000kms contains the most significant evolution of both species and communities in a forest area still relatively intact. It also Plays the most fundamental role for the climate regulation and the sequestration of carbon, it constitutes the habitat of numerous threatened species such as the pygmy chimpanzee (or bonobo), the bush elephant.
The pristine Salonga National Park currently managed by the ICCN (Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature) has unique climate described as continental equatorial: hot and humid with a mean annual precipitation of 2,000 millimeters over most of the reserve, falling to 1,700 m in the south, and with a slightly drier season from June to August. Rains are mostly downpours and on only 30 days in the year are precipitation less than 20 mm.
The park’s average relative humidity is 86%, regularly reaching saturation at night, but maintaining an average of 77% during the day. Temperatures are stable with daily mean variations between 20°C at night and 30°C during the day. The mean annual temperature is 24.5°C. Cloud cover is often complete until 10 a.m. and is associated with fog and storms from midday to 3 p.m., but skies are often clear at night to 4am.
Straddling on three landscape types i.e., river terraces, low plateaux and high plateaux, Salonga national park covers over a third of the immense Salonga-Lukenie-Sankuru forest and is the second largest pristine tropical rain forest national park in the whole globe. Its high (to 45m) equatorial forest trees occupy or cover most of the area, varying in composition. The common vegetation types are swamp, riverine, and dry-land forests. The dominant vegetation types are swamp, riverine and dry-land. Evergreen ombrophile forest is represented by well-developed stands of Gilbertiodendron dewevrei. The Semi-deciduous forest covers/occupy almost all areas between the rivers. Pioneer or transitory communities are found along river banks. Grassland vegetation, rather than savannah, occurs in the north sector, known locally as botoka-djoku (elephant's bath). The total area of grassland is under 0.5% of the park area. Southwards, the vegetation is more open with esobe clearings.
Salonga National park is endowed with variety of wildlife species, notably the endangered bonobos, Dryas monkeys, Thollon's red colobus, Congo peacock, leopards, forest elephants, and African slender-snouted crocodiles. Other wildlife species well represented in the park include the long-tailed pangolin, giant pangolin, tree pangolin, Angolan slender mongoose, aquatic genet, hippopotamus, the African golden cat, bush pig, bongo, yellow-backed duiker, sitatunga, okapi, bushbuck, water chevrotain and pygmy Cape buffalo. Besides wildlife, avifauna is also present and some of the larger bird species are the cattle egret, black stork and yellow-billed stork.
In regard to Cultural heritage, a group of about 800 Iyalima occupies the western Dekese zone in the southeast of the park in eight villages, living in harmony with the forest. Since the Park’s creation, their occupation of their own lands has been officially illegal. In 2003, the Lukuru Wildlife Research Project (LWRP) initiated /introduced a drive to formalize their status under newly revised conservation laws. In recent years, Bantu groups from different independent African Christian movements, some seeking refuge from state pressures, have moved and settled into the Park: For instance the Kimbanguistes in the south and Kitawalistes in the north near Lomela. Both are in contact with poachers and there are planners on-going to relocate or move them outside the central zone of the park. The Bianga community in the south survives by poaching and farming within the Park. Local farming is based on manioc, maize and banana, with coffee, rice, oil palms and rubber trees and, with traditional fishing, hunting and gathering, continues in the buffer zone.