Civil unrest across Central Africathwarts the enforcement of the few laws in place to rein in commercial
logging and agricultural expansion, while the bushmeat trade imperils the survival of great apes, elephants, and numerous other species. Yet an innovative institution of conservation education and its first graduating class offer hope for the survival of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s pristine tropical forests
and the economic growth of its communities
The isolation of large portions of the Congo’s forests has helped keep about two-thirds of this wilderness
in pristine condition. However, political instability and violence have posed severe challenges for conservationists working in the DRC, and compromised this region’s economic development.
Creating the nation’s first formally accredited conservation university is one of many milestones transforming this region. Pierre Kakule, a former national park warden and friend of CI’s, envisioned and led the creation of a community-run gorilla reserve
to protect the region’s threatened species.
The university was established shortly thereafter to encourage and educate a new generation of conservationists. In 2006, President Joseph Kabila issued a decree making Tayna Center for Conservation Biology (TCCB) the nation’s first community-run university licensed to confer three-year degrees in higher education.
"We are preparing for the inevitability of peace," Kakule told the first graduating class of the TCCB. "Our country will soon be in the hands of these new students who are ready to ensure that our resources are used in a sustainable way and our communities can develop economically."
TCCB graduates are emerging equipped with the knowledge and skills to preserve the region’s precious forests. With newly awarded, state-sanctioned degrees in conservation and biodiversity studies, they are now returning to their communities to work as field researchers, rangers, wardens and protected area managers. In return, their families are converting large tracts of traditional community lands into protected reserves to be managed by the new conservationists.
"These graduates are such a positive force for their country’s future," says CI President Russell Mittermeier, who presided over the March 14 graduation ceremony. "They are now qualified to manage Congo's valuable biodiversity – its tropical forests and wildlife – to help local communities that have endured so much hardship in the past decade."
At the ceremony, Mittermeier announced that CI’s Global Conservation Fund
(GCF) has secured USD $100,000 to further support the school. We have made the university our highest priority for sustainable future funding in Africa.