Highlights and Main Attractions of Garamba National Park

One of Africa’s oldest national parks, Garamba is located in the far northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, along the border with South Sudan. Measuring almost 2,000 square miles, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is composed of immense savannah grasslands, as well as forests that line the rivers and swamps of the region. In spite of the wealth of natural beauty here, Garamba is situated in one of the most hostile parts of Africa, and in the past has sheltered a number of armed militia groups, including Joseph Kony’s infamous Lord’s Resistance Army.

Thankfully, the involvement of non-profit organisation African Parks has helped to save this wondrous wilderness. Formed in 2000, African Parks works to protect some of the continent’s most threatened national parks, including Zakouma in Chad and Odzala-Kokoua in the Republic of Congo. African Parks assumed management of Garamba in 2005, eventually stabilising the area through a combination of community engagement and overhauled law enforcement strategies.

Almost 500 people from the surrounding communities are now employed as full-time staff, with a further 2,000 on short-term contracts. Park rangers now benefit from expert training and better equipment, with a rapid-response force on 24/7 standby. The park’s elephant population, which fell by 90% over the course of 40 years, has experienced just two poaching deaths in 2018. Poachers and militias remain constant threats, but never before has Garamba been so well protected against them.

The natural treasures for whom Garamba’s dedicated staff put their lives on the line are numerous. Some 1,200 elephants roam the savannah, but hippos and buffalo can also be seen here, as well as a number of species of antelope (bushbuck, bongo and Ugandan kob among them). Warthogs snuffle among the undergrowth, vervet monkeys leap acrobatically from treetop to treetop, and predators like lions, leopards and hyenas prowl through the grasslands.

These are just some of the marvellous animals who were once doomed to destruction here in Garamba, and while their future may not yet be completely assured, their presence today is a testament to what can be achieved when humans endeavour to protect, rather than exploit, the wildlife that exists alongside them.

Where is Garamba National Park?

A Tall Order for Conservationists

Perhaps Garamba’s most precious residents are the Kordofan giraffes that live within the park’s borders, the only giraffes to be found in the entirety of the DRC (Africa’s second-largest country). The size of this tiny population is estimated at just 47 individuals, putting the subspecies at great risk of local extinction. Elsewhere, the Kordofan subspecies can be found in Cameroon, Chad, the Central African Republic and possibly South Sudan.

40 years ago, Garamba was home to around 350 giraffes, but their numbers have since declined dramatically as a result of poaching in the area. Although the giraffe is not as highly prized in the illegal wildlife trade as other African animals, these huge herbivores are still killed for their pelts and particularly for their meat. A single giraffe can produce up to 660 pounds of meat, which, at around $35 a pound, can be incredibly lucrative for poachers living in one of the poorest countries in the world.

Despite the precarious position of this isolated giraffe population, there is cause for optimism. Since African Parks assumed management of Garamba, poaching levels have fallen across the board, with the number of elephants killed falling 50% in 2017 and the last evidence of a poached giraffe dating back to April 2016. All 47 giraffes have been fitted with satellite tracking harnesses, allowing park staff to monitor their movements and respond to threats more efficiently. The birth of seven new calves in the last year also brings hope for a new generation of giraffes that will allow the population to grow in the coming years.

Thanks to the work of dedicated conservationists, effective methods of law enforcement and engagement with local communities – many of whom work here – African Parks has helped to turn Garamba’s fortunes around. Mathias D’haen, a scientist who studies the park’s giraffes, has said that “giraffes have a chance of increasing” within Garamba, “and so do the other species. This region is vastly understudied. Working here is like opening the box of Pandora. There’s so much to see, and yet more to discover.”

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Image Credits

Banner image: Marcus Westberg

Kordofan giraffes: Marcus Westberg