for National Geographic News
The Republic of Congo will set aside up to 3,800 square miles (1 million hectares) of habitat teeming with elephants, chimpanzees, hippos, crocodiles, and some of the highest densities of gorillas on Earth for two new wildlife parks.
The new protected areas will encompass a mosaic of savannas covering ancient sand dunes, riverside forests, and swamp forests.
Henri Djombo, Congo's minister of forestry economy and the environment, made the announcement at the United Nations in New York on September 18 along with officials from the U.S.-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
In prepared remarks, Djombo said his country depends on forest resources for economic development but is "deeply committed to biodiversity conservation and sustainable forest management."
The first area to be created is Ougoue-Lekiti National Park in the southwestern part of the country (Congo map). The park will adjoin Gabon's Bateke National Park, which WCS helped establish in 2002.
The second area, to be officially protected next year, is called Ntokou Pikounda and lies southeast of Odzala Kokoua National Park. The area may contain some of the highest gorilla densities in the world, according to Paul Elkan, who directs WCS's Congo program.
WCS says it is delighted with the announcement.
Society officials called the new protected areas an "extraordinary achievement" for the entire Congo Basin and an important addition to the country's protected-area network.
"WCS has a good track record in Congo," said Mike Fay, a WCS ecologist who started working with colleagues in 1997 to promote establishment of Ougoue-Lekiti National Park.
Fay lobbied for the Ntokou Pikounda area after discovering it in 2000 during his "Megatransect" trek across the wilds of central Africa. (The Megatransect project was funded jointly by WCS and the National Geographic Society, which includes National Geographic News.)
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