Research and Conservation of Elephants and Large Carnivores in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Upemba facts

Protected Area Name: Upemba National Park
Foundation year: 1939
Country: Democratic Republic of Congo
Location: 9 °1′S; 26°35′E
Area: 11,730 km2 (4,530 sq mi)
Managed by: Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN)
Number of species: 1,800
Main threats: poaching and illegal settlements

Dreaming about Africa

Africa’s big five (elephants, rhinos, Cape buffaloes, lions, leopards) are some of the continent’s most iconic wild species. These are in the dreams of every naturalist, as well as in those people who grew up dreaming about Africa through stunning documentary footage. However, only a few people are aware that such feelings arise from a specific south-eastern area of the Democratic Republic of Congo: the Upemba National Park! The Park, founded in 1939, underlies the collective imagination of that amazing and lively African area, which offers an explosion of wild species to everyone willing to live such an extraordinary experience.

The issue

With immense regret, the Park, symbol of the African bush-savannah, is now depleted of several species. For instance, elephants and zebras, which were abundant counting thousands of individuals within the Park, are now rare, with few specimens presenting a fragmented distribution. In addition, Upemba represents the last potential refuge for cheetahs in Congo and even hosts lions and leopards. Unfortunately, the Park was completely abandoned in the last 30 years as a consequence of a civil war and economic crisis. Local rangers, once advocates of this wild paradise, became poachers to sustain their families. Alongside, other poacher groups are inhabiting the abusive villages spread within the Park, and even the Mai Mai militia does not hesitate to kill any environmental defender. Moreover, a village located between the Upemba lakes and the Lufira valley, is situated in the middle of a migration route for elephants, which destroy field crops and, occasionally, kill humans. This situation contributes to generate retaliatory killing by local inhabitants, undermining the yet precarious long-lasting survival of the few remaining individuals. Today it’s hard to determine what species survived within the Park, thus it is complicated to identify them in the wide spaces of the African savannah and in the deepest bush canopy-covered areas, which have become even denser, up to the Miombo's forest.


Thanks to our Wildlife Initiative branch in DR of Congo (opening in 2021), we have been making agreements with "la Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN)” with the purpose to realize an intensive large mammal survey using camera-traps, vehicle transects and sightings points. This should contribute to identify the rarest and elusive species still living within the Park and to estimate the remaining population abundance. Furthermore, we will carry out an interview-based survey with locals aiming at collecting information regarding the frequency, period and distribution of elephant attacks, damages to farmers and their attitude towards the species. This will enable us to find the attacks’ hotspots and the most suitable way to reduce human-elephant conflicts, promoting coexistence within the Upemba National Park.


Our local team and students from the University of Lubumbashi will be trained to conduct biodiversity and social studies from the data collection to the data analysis. We will also work on improving the local biologists’ abilities in order to give them the skills to manage their land, which has a key role among stakeholders. We will pay the social and camera trapping surveys.

Upemba represents the last potential refuge for zebra in Congo and even hosts both threatened lions and leopards