Close to the eastern border of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where the country meets Burundi on the other side of Lake Tanganyika, is a hotpot for biodiversity. One fern-like plant species – Dorstenia luamensis – was newly discovered clinging to the cliff face of a remote rift valley in 2012, and was duly named after the Luama Katanga Reserve which it and hundreds of other species are supposed to be inside, and therefore legally protected by.
However, decades of civil war and government upheaval have resulted in the reserve being incorrectly located on official maps, instead protecting a region 50 km west of where the reserve is supposed to be. The news was announced by The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) at the 2014 International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia.
The Luama Katanga Reserve was established in 1947, and initially correctly mapped. Adjacent to the reserve is a separate area of woodland known as the Ngamikka Forest, which neighbours Lake Tanganyika. The WCS was in the process of proposing the establishment of the Ngamikka National Park, which would provide further protection to the Ngamikka Forest area between the Luama Katanga Reserve and Lake Tanganyika, when a mistake concerning the Luama Katanga Reserve was uncovered last year.
The WCS have been lobbying the DRC government ever since to try and have their official maps amended as early as possible. The outcome from the error is that the chimpanzees and their habitat where the reserve is supposed to be are currently not legally protected – since they are outside the officially recognised boundaries – and the land is now being threatened by cattle ranchers and forest destruction.
‘The moral of this story is that keeping track of parks – and especially getting maps and boundaries correct – matters hugely for biodiversity,’ said James Deutsch, WCS Vice President of Conservation Strategy. ‘The call to action here is to fix the records and re-protect the reserve before this unique plant and all the biodiversity it contains, including 1,400 chimpanzees, are destroyed.’