Republic of Congo names new national park, home to gorillas and elephants

The Republic of Congo has officially created its fifth national park, lending protection to great apes, forest elephants and other threatened wildlife.

The new Ogooué-Leketi National Park spans 3,500 square kilometers (1,350 square miles), and borders Batéké Plateau National Park in neighbouring Gabon. Together, the two national parks form a transboundary protected area covering more than 5,500 square kilometers (2,120 square miles).

Ogooué-Leketi is also part of the Batéké Plateau landscape, a unique patchwork of large rolling savannas on sandy hills, interrupted by long strips of dense forests and turquoise-blue river valleys. This savanna-forest complex is home to several threatened species, some found nowhere else in Congo, according to a press release from the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Congo program, which has been surveying the area with the country’s Ministry of Forestry Economy since 2004.

In 2009, the IUCN identified the region in which the park sits today as a priority conservation site for the protection of the critically endangered western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) and the endangered central chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes troglodytes), said Mark Gately, country director for WCS-Congo.

The forest sector of the new park is also home to several other species, such as the African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis), forest buffalo (Syncerus caffer nanus), red river hog (Potamochoerus porcus), and several species of monkey including the iconic mandrill (Mandrillus sphinx). The savanna part of the national park, too, hosts a wide range of wildlife.

The park has at least six species of rare savanna plants that are specialists of the Kalahari Sands, the substrate that forms the Batéké Plateau, and other savanna specialists like the bush duiker (Sylvicapra grimmia), side-striped jackal (Canis adustus), and several species of birds. The national park area was in fact identified by BirdLife International as a site of high importance for bird conservation in 2007.

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