Kabobo Wildlife Reserve Helps Secure Nature and Indigenous Livelihoods, in DR Congo

Kabobo Wildlife Reserve Helps Secure Nature and Indigenous Livelihoods, in DR Congo


In December 2016, the Governor of DRC's Tanganyika Province in December 2016 created the Kabobo Wildlife Reserve (KWR), following a 10-year participatory planning process, that used the principles of Free Prior and Informed Consent. Through this process the local Batwa indigenous people actively advocated for creation of the reserve as a tangible way to protect their rights, by conserving the intact forest ecosystems on which they depend for their physical and spiritual wellbeing.


The nearly 150,000 hectare KWR is located in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) along the western shores of Lake Tanganyika. It forms the core of a conservation landscape composed of montane rainforest and savannah woodlands centered on the Kabobo Massif, a 100 km mountain range that is one of Africa's most biodiverse places. The area also forms the largest forest and water catchment on Lake Tanganyika, making It as critical source of freshwater to local communities, and plays a key role in sustaining the health of fisheries in Lake Tanganyika. The hydropower dam that provides Kalemie city with its power is also located in the area. Thus, the natural ecosystems of the Kabobo region provide critical services to some 300,000 people, within and outside the Kabobo region itself.

Despite its importance, the Kabobo region faces significant threats including artisanal mining, growing charcoal and timber demands from cities and towns, and migration into the area to escape conflicts elsewhere. Civil insecurity in the region, and much of the rest of the eastern DRC, has allowed illegal activities to flourish, and limited the ability of legitimate authorities to exercise oversight. The effects of these threats are exacerbated by local conflicts over access to natural resources, which thrive in a setting where governance is weak and land tenure ambiguous.

Illegal and illegitimate taking of land and natural resources has had an especially severe impact on the Batwa, an indigenous group numbering approximately 6,000 people. The Batwa account for about 20% of the population of the Kabobo Massif, and reside in 37 villages, some of which are exclusively Batwa and some of which are also home to Bantu people. The Batwa are locally renowned for their ecological knowledge, and their active stewardship of the forest has been an important factor in maintaining the integrity of the area's natural ecosystems. They are especially vulnerable to land and resource grabbing, because their way of life depends heavily on the direct use of natural resources. Also, they are socially and politically subordinate to the Bantu population, which places them at a distinct disadvantage as they try to defend their land and resource rights.

The participatory planning process leading up to the creation of the KWR provided a structure to ensure that all voices were heard. This allowed the Batwa to engage with other actors on a more equal footing than otherwise would have been the case, and resulted in a consensus delineation of the area's external boundaries, and a set of internal land use zones to structure resource use.

The process also ensured that the Batwa became active participants in each of the four community conservation committees, which have been consolidated from 44 smaller groups. These committees are guiding development of the locally appropriate governance systems needed to establish and enforce legitimate resource use rules. Representation and active participation by local stakeholder groups, like the Batwa, in the governance of the KWR ensures that their interests and concerns are adequately reflected in the rules that are put in place to determine who has access to reserve resources and how much legitimate users can take of any given resource over a given period of time.

In 2016, the DR Congo passed a new Forestry Law, which provides a legal framework for community tenure and management of forest lands, based on creation of Local Community Forest Concessions (CFCL). This provides an opportunity to apply the participatory principles used to create and manage the KWR to the creation of CFCLs in the area surrounding the reserve, and extend community management across much of this important landscape.


Effective Governance IconGOVERNANCE: The establishment of Kabobo Wildlife Reserve and its subsequent co-management by resident communities and the national park agency (ICCN) have established important precedents for participatory resource management within the nation. Under the DRC's new forestry law, this approach can be extended to CFCLs to secure sound and participatory management of large areas of the surrounding forest.

Rights IconRIGHTS: Conflicts over land rights and access open divisions within and across resident communties which increases the vulnerability of the area to external threats.

When access to resources is contested, traditional rights not recognized, and laws not enforced, politically, socially and economically marginalized groups like the Batwa are most at risk of being deprived of their legitimate lands and resources. The participatory processes used to create and manage the KWR respects the rights of the Batwa to self determination and to have a substantial say in how lands and waters they have traditional and legitimate claims over are managed.

This allowed the Batwa to exercise important influence over the boundaries and zoning of KWR and win explicit acknowledgement of their rights to forest resources. It also established a precedent for land use decision-making that should make it easier for the Batwa to defend their rights in the future.

Gender IconGENDER: Gender issues were explicitly considered as part of the planning process, and men and women were involved in the process. As a result, women are members of the conservation committees that have been established , and are represented in the decision making process that include local Bantu chiefs, Batwa and local civil society groups.

Wellbeing IconWELL-BEING: The Kabobo Wildlife Reserve ensures the Batwa's rights to use forest resources on which they depend for their livelihoods, and to defend these rights against poachers, miners, or other illegal resource users. Recognition of their rights helps ensure that future generations of Batwa will continue to have access to forest resources that have been a source of their identity as a people.

Constituencies IconCONSTITUENCY: The Batwa are key constituents for the Kabobo Wildlife Reserve-they depend and monitor use of resources in the area, and are one of the driving forces behind the reserve's creation to protect these resources from their use.


Batwa man mapping the reserve’s borders, © WCS- Kungwa Assani, Lugogo 1 village

A Batwa Scout  in Kabobo © WCS-Augustine Kasambule

Map of Kabobo wildlife Reserve© WCS-JP Kibambe


This work was made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the United States Fish And Wildlife Service, and the Arcus Foundation through the Jane Goodall Institute.

© 2021 Wildlife Conservation Society

WCS, the "W" logo, WE STAND FOR WILDLIFE, I STAND FOR WILDLIFE, and STAND FOR WILDLIFE are service marks of Wildlife Conservation Society.

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