The Goualougo Triangle Ape Project was established in 1999 and is ongoing. In addition to studying the behavior and ecology of gorillas and chimpanzees, this site provides immediate protection to the apes and other wildlife in the immediate area. Our research staff has formed partnerships with regional conservationists and forestry managers so as to lend expert assistance in understanding ape ecology, population dynamics and population monitoring. The Goualougo Triangle Ape Project has also provided long-term employment opportunities for local residents in relatively isolated areas and training opportunities to national and international students interested in pursuing a career in wildlife research and conservation. Further, results from our collaborations have aided in obtaining official protected status of the Goualougo Triangle area.
The Goualougo Triangle is granted Official Protected area Status
On January 20th 2012, in the capital city of Brazzaville, Republic of Congo President Sassou Nguesso with the stroke of a pen made a significant and lasting step towards the conservation and protection of biodiversity in his country (see official report). With the support of his counsel of ministers, the original decree that created the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in 1993 was modified to include the Goualougo Triangle within the park boundaries–closing an important chapter in the remarkable history of this key conservation area and stronghold of great ape research.
The official annexation of the Goualougo Triangle represents an initiative that has its’ origins in the late 1980’s when Mike Fay of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) made his first exploratory walks through the uninhabited “Ndoki” forests. There, in an enclave of forest located between the Ndoki and Goualougo rivers and associated swamps, Mike and his team encountered chimpanzees and other wildlife “naïve” of the threat humans pose throughout most of the rest of tropical Africa. Impressed by observations of abundant wildlife, juxtaposed against a lack of human sign, Fay dubbed the 375 km2 of terre firma forest the “Inner Sanctum”. Ironically, the area was not included in the boundaries of the newly created National Park and so began a conservation campaign that would span the next fifteen years.
The official annexation is the culmination of hard work by many dedicated individuals over years. In a time when conservation initiatives are often “after the fact” and forests commonly lost to fragmentation, irresponsible logging and unregulated agriculture, there are few issues more important in securing the future of great apes than effectively protecting old growth mature forests such as the Goualougo Triangle.
It is our hope that the enduring legacy of protecting this particular forest will not only be measured solely on the basis of the inclusion of gorillas and chimpanzees into the park, but also the impact of ongoing studies aimed at improving survival prospects of apes beyond the borders of the Goualougo Triangle. Another testament to the foresight of this action will be the next generation of Congolese who jumpstart their conservation careers by conducting research within a forest with such an important history.
World Heritage Status
On July 1st 2012, The United Nations World Heritage Committee made the announcement in St. Petersburg, Russia, that the Sangha Tri-National Protected Area complex home a 25,000 km2 (10,000 square-mile) of contiguous forested area across the Republic of Congo, Cameroon, and the Central African Republic was inscribed as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Education, Science, and Cultural Organization, UNESCO. The World Heritage status represents the culmination of a body of work spanning decades and included the involvement of government officials, researchers, local stakeholders, non-government organizations, private sector and financial supporters. This inscription signifies that this trans-boundary area which is home to significant populations of western gorillas and central chimpanzees is of global importance and deserving of protection and elevated status. It is also home to important forest hunter-gather populations of indigenous people whose very existence and cultures rely on these forests.
Elevating the Sangha Tri-National Protected Area complex to World Heritage status raises the profile of Africa on the UNESCO World Heritage Listing. Historically, Africa has been underrepresented on the World Heritage listing encompassing only 9% sites. The Sangha Tri-National Protected Area complex is also unique because it is the first site spanning three nations. A key feature is continuous forest cover across the Sangha Tri-National complex and one of the most ecologically functional and least human-modified forests worldwide.
At the southernmost tip of the Sangha Tri-National Protected Area rests the Goualougo Triangle which earlier this year also celebrated its own milestone in protection with official inclusion by Presidential decree within the boundary of the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park after years of lobbying. The changes in the status of the Goualougo Triangle and larger Sangha Tri-National complex highlight stakeholder’s efforts are being recognized and that there is inherent worth in helping sustain these globally important initiatives.