Odzala-Kokoua National Park

Area : 13500 km2 – African Parks project since 2010

Odzala-Kokoua National Park is managed by the Odzala Foundation – a partnership between African Parks and the Congolese Government.

In the heart of the world's second largest tropical rainforest, second only to the Amazon, lies a vast expanse of protected frontier forest, Odzala-Kokoua National Park. Situated in the north-west of the Republic of Congo, this 13,546 km2 of pristine wilderness is home to the incredible biological diversity that is characteristic of such an extraordinary and complex ecosystem.

ABOUT THE PARK

In the heart of the world's second largest tropical rainforest, second only to the Amazon, lies a vast expanse of protected frontier forest, Odzala-Kokoua National Park. Situated in the north-west of the Republic of Congo, this 13,546 km2 of pristine wilderness is home to the incredible biological diversity that is characteristic of such an extraordinary and complex ecosystem.

The park was established in 1935 during the French Colonial period but was extended in 2001, in consultation with the local communities, to its current expanse. Odzala-Kokoua is one of three signature areas of the 191,541km2 trans-boundary mosaic known as the Tridom project. Declared a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve in 1977 and nominated in 2008 to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Odzala as a conservation priority is unattested. Odzala is also recognised as an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International. African Parks took over the management of Odzala-Kokoua in November 2010 under the terms of a partnership agreement with the Government of the Republic of Congo. This agreement provides for the creation of a dedicated non-profit entity, the Odzala Foundation, which will have overall jurisdiction over the park.

Odzala-Kokoua is a ‘frontier forest' which harbours some of the last extensive blocks of contiguous forest ecosystems that are capable of supporting viable populations of large mammals. The southern part of the park is predominantly a savannah-forest mosaic and forest gallery ecosystem. The centre of the park is dominated by Marantaceae Forest where a high density of gorilla and elephant are found. Further north, the park is covered by mature rain forest.

One of the unique aspects of this park is its numerous clearings, called ‘bais', that provide an opportunity to observe the forest wildlife easily where it is normally difficult to see through the dense vegetation in a tropical forest. The majestic Mambili River provides one of the few access routes to the park. The Ekoutou escarpment (80km) with its lichen forest, and Djoua swamp in the north west of the park remain some of the most remote areas in which only a few scientific expeditions have been conducted.

The biological diversity is exceptional, including more than 400 bird species, 114 mammal species and in excess of 4,400 varieties of plants. Of the 16 primate species, it is the gorilla and chimpanzee populations on which OKNP's reputation rests. Odzala also boasts numerous herbivore species. These include elephants, numbering in the thousands, and a few populations of hippopotamus.

The pressure on the fauna by the local populations (around 10,000 people living in approximately 70 villages along the periphery of the park) is considerable as hunting represents a critical source of revenue and protein for the local people. The major threats include commercial and subsistence hunting for bushmeat, elephant poaching for ivory and the construction of roads on the periphery of the park, which exacerbates the problem of poaching as it provides easy access to previously isolated forest. Diseases such as ebola also threaten in particular the great ape populations.

FLORA & FAUNA

Forming part of the Congo Basin, Odzala-Kokoua National Park has a reputation for impressive levels of biodiversity and endemism. Odzala provides refuge for 114 mammal species, more than 400 birds and in excess off 4,400 varieties of plants.

A known 16 primate species inhabit the park. Among the primates the most well-known are the western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) and the chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), both of which are sought after sightings for wildlife enthusiasts. Other noteworthy primate species include the black and white colobus (Colobus guereza), the mangabey (Cercocebus agilis) and the De Brazza's monkey (Cercopithecus neglectus).

The Tridom area supports the largest forest elephant population in Central Africa. The most recent survey in 2006 estimated the population to range between 11,000 and 18,000 animals; however the scarcity of recent activity and sightings is a cause for concern. Forest elephant are considered a keystone species and therefore central to healthy ecosystem functioning. Their protection is thus paramount as their demise would likely exacerbate the decline of many other forest species.

Other herbivore species also abound. In the eastern forests of Odzala, some of the largest populations of forest buffalo (Syncerus caffer nanus) still remain. Healthy populations of bongo antelope (Tragelaphus euryceros) and sitatunga (Tragelaphus spekii) can be found as well as giant forest hog (Hylochoerus meinertzhageni) and bush pig (Potamochoerus porcus). These are only some amongst a variety of species too numerous to mention. Among the insectivorous mammals, the giant pangolin (Manis gigantea) and the aardvark (Orycteropus afer) stand out. Odzala remains the only place in the greater Tridom area where spotted hyaena (Crocutacrocuta) can still be found.

Birdlife abounds in rainforest ecosystems. A total of 444 avian species have been recorded in the Odzala region alone. Among these the grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus) occurs abundantly in roosts consisting of thousands of individuals. Other notable species include the grey-necked rockfowl (Picathartes oreas); forest swallow (Hirundo fuliginosa); Zenker's honeyguide (Melignomon zenkeri); Gosling's apalis (Apalis goslingi); black-eared ground thrush (Zootheracamaronensis); grey ground thrush (Zoothera princei); eastern wattled cuckoo-shrike (Lobotosoriolinus); Verreaux's batis (Batis minima); Bates' weaver (Ploceus batesi); yellow capped weaver (Ploceus dorsomaculatus) and Rachel's malimbe (Malimbus racheliae). The black-casqued hornbill (Ceratogymna atrata) and Bycanistes species of hornbill are considered vulnerable as well as several raptors such as the crowned hawk eagle (Stephanoaetus coronatus).

Between the forest floor and the forest canopy is an extravagant diversity of invertebrate life. Unfortunately (or perhaps promisingly) very little is known about the invertebrates of Odzala, and only the butterflies have been studied in the greater Tridom region. A total of 346 species have been recorded within the boundaries of Odzala-Kokoua National Park, with an additional 301 recorded in the periphery of the park. For the broader Tridom area, at least 25 butterfly species are believed to be endemic and 2005 saw the discovery of a species entirely new to science (Bebearia ivindoensis).

Botanically, this area is also one of the world's most diverse, with more than 4,400 plant species recorded, including distinctive palm groves of Senegal date palms (Phoenix reclinata) dotted along the Mambili River banks.

Comments are closed.