Protected Areas in the Congo Basin

Numerous protected areas cover the landscape of the Congo Basin; national parks include Virunga in the eastern DRC and wildlife reserves such as the Okapi Reserve in the transitional forest of northern DRC. Similarly, UNESCO world heritage sites include the multiple national parks and reserves located in the Sangha Trinational area of Cameroon, Republic of Congo, and Central African Republic.    

Protected areas in the Congo basin are found to be effective in preventing deforestation but somewhat because of their remote locations. In West Africa on the other hand, where much less native forest remain, parks provide the only natural forest habitat; however they also experience more deforestation inside of the protected area, due to the multiple use designation (IUCN V and VI). Financing of these protected areas is crucial to their ability to protect forests and endangered species. Studies find that many parks are chronically underfunded, receiving less than half of needed funding; large parks require approximately $1 million per year. Secure funding is vital for salaries, enforcement, and long term monitoring. However, finance of park management is only one factor; governments may lose tax revenue from the opportunity costs of forgoing development in a park area. For this reason, several groups work on ecotourism or REDD+ as means to provide revenue for conservation activities. Virunga National Park in eastern DRC has experienced high deforestation inside the park, however advocacy for the ecotourism value of the park has managed to counteract proposed oil drilling (see oil and mining page). The Congo Basin Forest Partnership works to coordinate donor funding for protected area management and other means of forest conservation.

An additional limitation to protected areas is their conservation representativeness, or ability to protect important and threatened ecosystems. In the Congo Basin, interior lowland forests of DRC, Gabon, and northern Republic of Congo are relatively well protected, but less protected are the Cameroon highlands, Albertine montane forests of eastern DRC, and Sahel-Acacia savannah of Central African Republic.    

Traditionally designed to protect wildlife and landscapes, recent conservation work attempts to acknowledge the role of traditional peoples and sustainable land use activity. Many new protected areas designated as biosphere reserves are mixed use landscapes that incorporate nature conservation and sustainable human use. Many NGOs work around national parks on landscape management and integrated conservation and development projects. Sustainable forestry, agroforestry with crops such as coffee and cocoa, and sustainable non-timber forest products are often components of these programs, such as the Dzanga-Sangha Reserve of Central African Republic, where Yale F&ES alum Richard Carroll was Africa director for many years.  Similarly, Yale F&ES researchers Amy Vedder and Bill Weber work with WCS to conserve mountain gorilla landscapes in the montane forests of the eastern Congo basin, through ecotourism, community projects, and park management. Recently, some biosphere reserves such as the Dja Reserve in Cameroon are exploring REDD programs to protect forests and provide additional revenue for local communities.  


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Inogwabini, B. I., Ilambu, O., & Gbanzi, M. A. (2005). Protected areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Conservation Biology, 19(1), 15-22.

Joppa, L. N., Loarie, S. R., & Pimm, S. L. (2008). On the protection of “protected areas”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences105(18), 6673-6678.

Potapov, P.V., Turubanova, S.A., Hansen, M.C., Adusei, B., Broich, M., Altstatt, A., Mane, L., and Justice, C.O., Quantifying forest cover loss in Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2000-2010, with Landsat ETM+ data, Remote Sensing Environment, 2012, 122, 106-116

Struhsaker, T. T., Struhsaker, P. J., & Siex, K. S. (2005). Conserving Africa’s rain forests: problems in protected areas and possible solutions. Biological Conservation, 123(1), 45-54.

WCS Rwanda (n.d.) Retrieved from

Wilkie, D. S., Carpenter, J. F., & Zhang, Q. (2001). The under-financing of protected areas in the Congo Basin: so many parks and so little willingness-to-pay. Biodiversity & Conservation, 10(5), 691-709.

WWF. (n.d.) WWF’s work in Dzanga Sangha, Central African Republic. Retrieved from