Salonga National Park

  • July - September 2014
  • DRC

Simon Lewis and Wannes Hubau led a team to measure a second census of 9 primary forest plots in Salonga National Park, DRC. his mission was supported by the ERC Advanced Grant ‘Tropical Forests in the Changing Earth System’ (T-FORCES) at Leeds University, UK. The park is situated in the deep heart of the dark forests of the Congo Basin. The park is situated in the deep heart of the dark forests of the Congo Basin. The park is very hard to access and it contains a number of near-mythical creatures such as the African slender-snouted crocodile, the forest elephant, the bonobo (pygmy chimpanzee) and the Congo peafowl. The latter two are endemic in the Congo Basin. 

The expedition was organised in collaboration with WCS. Two pirogues were tied together, loaded with ~ 400kg of equipment and food and 1800l of fuel for the trip. A small sun and rain shelter  was constructed using tarpaulins for the 6 day trip towards Monkoto village, following the Ruki, Momboyo and finally the Luilaka rivers.

After arriving at Mokoto the team were joined by John Tshibamba Mukendi, a Congolese PhD student who’s working on reconstructions of Holocene forest dynamics using the hardly explored soil charcoal archive. John was supported by the Belgian Africamuseum to join our expedition and gather samples from a region that is now hardly known to the scientific community.  As such, two teams were formed: a first team led by John for digging pits and collecting charcoal and a second team led by Simonand Wannes for plot inventories. The team of John also organised collections of leave samples, not only for herbarium specimens but also for phylogenetic analysis. Fieldwork for at least three different research projects were combined. 

The plots were installed in 2008 by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) within the CARPE Salonga National Park consortium, in collaboration with the Center for Tropical Forest Science (CTFS) of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. The consortium installed 4 plots in very young pioneer forest near Monkoto village in the corridor between the two blocks of Salonga NP, 4 plots in older secondary forest just next to the abandoned Lokofa settlement and 9 plots in old-growth primary rainforest on a 2h walk from the Lokofa site in the Southern block of the Salonga NP. The idea was to show that intact primary rainforest stocks more carbon than disturbed forest types. The 8 pioneer and secondary forest plots are relatively easy to access and they have been recensused by the same consortium in 2011. Therefore, recensus of the 9 primary forest plots was the focus.

Recensus and sample collection took 40 days, divided in three time blocks with two short rest periods back in Monkoto village. During one of the rest periods, a one-day expedition with a WCS pirogue was organised to search for other terra firme sites further up the Luilaka river. As the 9 Nguma plots are probably not very old, it would be very useful to install some plots in an older primary rainforest. Once this is done, we will have four plot sites ranging the whole spectrum of young secondary, old secondary, young primary and old primary forest. During our prospection, we identified a large terra firme plateau covered with mature rainforest that might be older than the Nguma forest (at first sight there were more larger trees). This site is known as Bionga-Bionga and it is located very near Monkoto, which will facilitate fieldwork organisation.

After finishing the Nguma plots, we wanted to install a first plot in Bionga-Bionga. Unfortunately, we were unable to do this as we were suddenly evacuated from the Equateur Province because of a small Ebola outbreak near Watsi Kengo and Boende, on about 80 km North of Monkoto village. According to the WHO, “The Democratic Republic of Congo raised its death toll from the Ebola virus to 42 on Wednesday [1 Oct 2014] as it struggled to contain the 2nd outbreak of the disease in Africa this year [2014]. The latest figures include 8 health workers, Health Minister Felix Kabange Numbi said in a message sent to AFP.” WCS sent the pirogues from Mbandaka to pick us up in Monkoto. We travelled downstream and we travelled day and night. We made it back to Mbandaka in less than 48 hours.

Text was taken from Wannes Hubau's report. Read full copy of the report here.