Where Communities & Gorilla Research Meet…
Congo Conservation Company, Republic of the Congo
In Republic of the Congo (Congo-Brazzaville), close to the geographical “Heart of Africa“, lies a near-mythical place of astounding biodiversity. The Congo Basin is a place where, even today, very few people have had the chance to visit.
Over many years spent in Africa, scientists Magdalena Bermejo and Germán Illera had come to understand the connection between conservation and communities. During the first gorilla and chimpanzee studies funded by the EU, Magda and Germán associated the Ebola outbreak in West and Central Africa communities with the 5000 Western Lowland Gorillas who died in 2002 and 2003. This amounted to a loss of 95% of the Western Lowland Gorilla population within an area of Odzala-Kokoua National Park.
The communities became very involved in helping the researchers investigate the Ebola outbreak. They did this without consideration of personal risk or the heart-breaking circumstances, including the loss of their own family members. Over these years, an unbreakable bond was formed between Magda, Germán, their research team and the communities of Odzala-Kokoua National Park as people worked together to help those who couldn’t help themselves – the gorillas.
TOURISM FOR CONSERVATION
Magda, Germán and their team were the first people to study Western Lowland Gorillas. A prerequisite to developing their research programme, a mutual respect had to be built between the researchers and the gorillas. This required daily visits to a specific group over about three years. By 2002, they had identified 10 social groups with a population of 143 in the northwest of Republic of the Congo.
The team continued their conservation research programme and initiated a pilot gorilla tourism programme in the Ngaga-Ndzehi area, with the blessing of the communities, in an effort to drive awareness and support for the region following the Ebola outbreak.
In this area, Ngaga Camp was founded, the first within the newly formed Odzala tourism offering, with one of the gorilla families that Magda and German had been studying and naturally habituating to humans. By 2015, a second research gorilla family was incorporated into the tourism programme and two more camps were opened (Lango and Mboko) within Odzala-Kokoua National Park. These two camps are adventure camps within the bai and river systems with the opportunity to spot forest elephant, bongo, sitatunga and much more. CCC is pioneering an incredibly unique and important destination. A bucket list opportunity for those with a sense of adventure and love of the natural world.
GORILLA RESEARCHERS, GUIDES AND TRACKERS
A team of permanent researchers and trackers from nearby communities work with the gorilla families on a daily basis. Guests of Odzala are led on expeditions by the trackers into the Marantaceae forest in search of the critically endangered western lowland gorilla based on where they were spotted the previous day, where they nested for the night and then following signs of their morning activity. The tracker knows each gorilla by sight and can explain the family hierarchy and characters of each gorilla.
IMPACT OF YOUR STAY: Operating in remote parts of Central and West Africa, Congo Conservation Company (CCC) is creating a viable, low impact tourism venture in pristine, natural regions. This presence protects that are from other, potentially damaging, commercial enterprises.
Every stay contributes through:
– Being one of only a few hundred tourists to visit this region every year (v’s +300,000 to the Masai Mara).
– Paying US$ 140pppn Odzala Park & Conservation Fees, allocated as: US$ 40 Park Fee, US$ 75 to African Parks for conservation of the park and US$ 25 Community Fee.
– US$ 750 Gorilla Tracking Fee contributes directly to the Western Lowland Gorilla research centre in camp.
– Meet the researchers and share feedback on gorilla behaviour collected during the morning track and any data collected from camera traps, helping analyse the resident wildlife’s behaviour.
– Eco-tourism from the 3 camps has created an on-going presence, leading to stability and safety for wildlife.
In collaboration with government, researchers, neighbouring communities and key partnerships with environmental organisations, CCC continues to pioneer tourism in the Congo Basin with future plans to expand access into new regions.
Through the tourism developments, conservation has been given a higher value by the communities within and surrounding the national park as a result of job creation and investment in the area. Together – community, research and tourism are working towards a stronger future for the Congo Basin and all its inhabitants and your input as a tourist is a key component to making the future a success.