Above: An aerial photo of Nouabale Ndoki National Park and one of its signature forest clearings called Mbeli Bai. Included in the World Heritage Site designation, this clearing is known for its importance to gorillas, elephants, sitatunga antelope and birds. Photo by Ian Nichols, NGS.
I’m proud to say that on July 1 the United Nations World Heritage Committee named the Sangha Tri-National Protected Area a World Heritage Site. This status, conferred by the United Nations Education, Science, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), represents the culmination of a body of work spanning decades. It also reflects the importance of the landscape that Lincoln Park Zoo and its partners are doing so much to study and save.
The area in question is a 10,000-square-mile contiguous forest stretching across parts of the Republic of Congo, Cameroon and the Central African Republic. It’s home to significant populations of western gorillas and central chimpanzees, which I’ve spent years studying with my wife and partner, Crickette Sanz. The region is also home to important indigenous hunter-gather populations whose very existence and cultures rely on these forests. We’re glad to see UNESCO agrees it’s of global importance and deserving of protection.
Elevating the Sangha Tri-National Protected Area to World Heritage status raises the profile of Africa on the UNESCO World Heritage List. This is a welcome addition, as Africa has historically been underrepresented on the World Heritage List, encompassing only 9 percent of sites.
Designation for the Sangha Tri-National Protected Area is also unique because it’s the first site spanning three nations. The continuous forest cover is a key feature; the area is one of the most ecologically functional and least human-modified forests worldwide.
The Goualougo Triangle, where we study great ape tool use and the impact of logging, is at the southernmost tip of the Sangha Tri-National Protected Area. Earlier this year the Triangle celebrated its own milestone in protection. After years of lobbying, it was officially included within Nouabale-Ndoki National Park by Presidential decree—necessary protection for one of most pristine landscapes on earth.
Both this earlier recognition and the World Heritage Site designation highlight the inherent worth in sustaining these globally important initiatives. They reflect the key involvement of government officials, researchers, local stakeholders, non-government organizations, the private sector and financial supporters. Beyond that, they reflect hope for the species that call the region home, including chimpanzees and gorillas, our closest cousins.
A research fellow in Lincoln Park Zoo's Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes, David Morgan, Ph.D., is co-director of the Goualougo Triangle Ape Project.