To develop and promote chimp conservation and tourism in Tongo (Virunga National Park) in partnership with the Congolese Wildlife Authority and local communities.
Status: National Park, IUCN Category II Established 1925, the first in Africa World Heritage Site 1979, on Danger List since 1994 Ramsar Site 1996
Geographical Location: North-east DRC, bordering Uganda and Rwanda (0°55'N -1°35'S and 29°10 - 30°00'E)
Size: 7,900 km²
Tongo is a 10 km² forest island located in the Southern Sector of Virunga National Park, and home to a small population of Chimpanzees. The forest, which is estimated to be around 300 years old, lies on one of the old lava flows from the Nyamulagira Volcano, which erupts on average once every two years.
Frankfurt Zoological Society first initiated the project in October 1987 through Annette Lanjow. Annette developed a comprehensive network of trails and attempted to locate and follow the chimpanzees twice a day. After a period of two years of intensive effort, the chimpanzees numbering approximately 50 individuals were sufficiently habituated to permit tourism to begin. The first year of the project involved opening 80 km of trails and habituation the chimps to the presence of people; which was then followed by a 12-month trial period for tourism. In December 1989, tourism officially opened. At that time, there was no other area where chimpanzees had been habituated for tourism without the use of artificial inducement (food, reproduced chimpanzee calls and other sounds). Tourism grew until 1992 providing important tourism revenue for park management and benefiting the small rural community of Tongo. This resulted in decreased pressure on the park and a cessation of illegal charcoal production. Civil unrest came to a peak in 1993 and the period of political and social conflict that followed was compounded by a massive influx of refugees fleeing the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Throughout the period of unrest, the ICCN rangers continued monitoring the chimpanzees, and thanks to their remarkable efforts, the chimpanzees remained unharmed until 2001.
It wasn’t until 10 years later that FZS was able to resume activities in Tongo, initially building a patrol post and focusing on park protection. With a return of relative peace and stability to the region, in 2010 FZS was able to re-launch the habituation process in preparation for tourism. In April 2010 the trails were reopened with the help of a team of 35 members of the local community who were trained and equipped by FZS. Once the tracks were open, ICCN, FZS and the local authorities selected 8 Community Trackers from the local community. Alexis Mutakirwa, a local primatologist working for FZS, trained the trackers in habitation techniques.
Habituation started in June 2010, and thanks to the hard work and dedication of Alexis and his Community Trackers, the chimps were fully habituated to their presence by the end of the year. Tourism is scheduled to open in the summer of 2011. In addition to Chimp viewing, tourists will be able to visit the Chimpanzee Resource Centre at Tongo, and have a presentation on the project and learn of the community’s involvement in protecting the park, as well visit the various development projects they are undertaking with support from FZS and the park. Tourists will also be able to hike to the crystal clear waters of Tongo’s rivers and pass by large pits full of poisonous gases and a graveyard for wildlife.
Tourists will be able to spend the night at the Sokomutu Campsite, where 50% of profits will go directly to supporting the park (tracker salaries and rations, maintaining tracks, guide and ranger equipment etc.), and the rest will go directly towards priority local development activities identified by RAPNAV, a local community association. For higher-end accommodation an important land-owner and long-time supporter of the park will soon be rehabilitating his lodge, and offering stunning views over the Tongo forest and the volcanoes.
• Re-open all 80 km of trails
• Maintain trackers’ campsite
• Build and maintain the FZS/RAPNAV Office
• Build and maintain the tourist camp
• Environmental education activities for schools in the resource centre
• Train trackers in chimpanzee health monitoring
• Carry out regular health screening of community trackers
• Train ICCN guides in tourism management
• Provide ICCN guides with uniforms and equipment
• Provide Community Trackers with primes and equipment
• Support RAPNAV in identifying and undertaking conservation-compatible development activities
• Provide CoCoBa training (village scale micro-credit) to RAPNAV
Parc National des Virunga
US Fish & Wildlife Services
Netherlands Embassy in DRC