The EPI Foundation was delighted to attract a live audience from 42 countries – spread across 6 continents - for our film screening and high level discussion, ‘Elephants of the Congo Basin’, which took place on 22 May, the International Day for Biological Diversity.
We were especially pleased that we were joined by so many distinguished conservationists. We heard fascinating insights from government ministers and senior wildlife officials in the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon, as well as from the UK Government and Bezos Earth Fund.
Minister Lee White of Gabon and Minister Rosalie Matondo of the Republic of the Congo made passionate appeals for greater international support for their conservation efforts. They both spoke about the immediate threat of poachers ("more and more poachers have heavy weapons", said Minister Matondo) but also about the more complex challenges of human-elephant conflict (HEC). Minister White described HEC as "the most significant threat to conservation in general", warning that if we don’t find solutions, popular support for conserving elephants would disappear. He said that Gabon often felt that it was:
"Fighting alone to save this global icon [and] the international community does not fully understand the enormity of the task and are not standing shoulder to shoulder with us."
From the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Director General of the National Institue for the Conservation of Nature, Yves Milan Ngangay, spoke to us in the tragic aftermath of the latest fatal attack on his rangers. "Too many rangers have paid the highest price", said Mr Ngangay. And from Equatorial Guinea, Secretary of State for Forests and the Environment, Fidel Esono Mba Eyono, urged donors not to overlook his country when they considered the Congo Basin:
"We may speak a different language, but we have much in common with our neighbours. Above all, we share the same extraordinary biodiversity."
Minister White and Minister Matondo, as well as Cristián Samper of the Bezos Earth Fund, also discussed innovative funding mechanisms for the Congo Basin. They pointed out the significance of the Congo Basin forest, for example in bringing rainfall to the Sahel. But Minister White said 15 years of discussions around carbon credits had brought little benefit to Gabon, and that a payment system for ecosystem services would be more complicated. He also called for more scientific research into the specific contribution of elephants to carbon sequestration and biodiversity.
But, while the Congo’s forests may play a role in mitigating the global impact of climate change, they are also suffering the impact of those same changes. Minister Matondo described the Congo’s forests as increasingly threatened by drought. Minister White said a decline in fruit trees was making elephants increasingly thin and hungry, leading to more crop raiding. He warned:
"We can fight poaching, but we can’t fight climate change."
You can watch the entire 90 minute event here.
And if you want to see the beautiful introductory film in high quality, please watch here.