The guardians of Tchimpounga

Written By: Tatiana Hayek, JGI Canada Volunteer
Category: From The Field

Hugging the western coast of the Republic of Congo, the rolling hills and breathtaking scenery of the Tchimpounga Nature Reserve supports diverse and important habitat.

Not only is the Tchimpounga sanctuary, where we protect more than 130 rescued chimps, located within the reserve. You also find increasingly rare ecosystems throughout, including savannahs, flood plains, mangrove swamps and Africa’s most endangered type of ecosystem, the coastal Mayombe forest. Rich in biodiversity, more than 300 tree and 10,000 animal species, many endangered such as forest elephants, western lowland gorillas, and pangolins, live here.

But, at more than 50,000 hectares, the reserve’s natural wealth also makes it vulnerable to logging, mining, oil exploration and poaching.

To safeguard the reserve from these threats, the Jane Goodall Institute of Congo (JGI Congo) has hired Eco-Guards from local communities to monitor and patrol the area. Eco-Guards record illegal activities and have arrested a number of hunters, fishermen, and charcoal burners operating illegally on the reserve. Guards also participate in land surveys, helping to build a bank of information on all the reserve’s inhabitants.

Tchimpounga Eco-Guards are taught how to use GPS data on their phones by Enrique Villamarin, Assistant Manager of Education and Nature Reserve Programs.

Over the past year, JGI Congo has made numerous improvements to their Eco-Guard program. Given their not infrequent encounters with poachers, Eco-Guards now receive intensive training on weapons handling, patrol techniques, forest navigation, boat operation and safety, law enforcement and physical fitness.

New mapping technology has also been introduced, so that the Eco-Guards can prioritize patrol areas and identify hotspots of illegal activity. With so much ground to cover, patrol shelters and other convenient amenities have been built throughout the reserve. Guards also receive financial incentives for intercepting illegal activities, which has boosted morale.

Another exciting development? The launch of the new Dog Detection Program. Dogs are used by anti-poaching units around the world to sniff out wildlife crime. After extensive training from international experts, four dogs and three handlers are now ready to support Eco-Guards in detecting evidence of bushmeat hunting and gun ammunition.

The Eco-Guards and sniffer dogs go through their final stages of training before starting work in the Tchimpounga Nature Reserve.

The staff at Tchimpounga sanctuary are continuously introducing new initiatives and improving current practices. Please consider supporting the sanctuary and the heroic Eco-Guards who keep it safe.

Photo credits: Fernando Turmo