Itombwe Nature Reserve – 6009KM2

Located in the Southern side of the Maiko-Taina-Kahuzi-Biega landscape, Itombwe Nature Reserve is a home of Africa’s largest and remotest block of intact montane forest – Itombwe Forest. Itombwe Reserve is one of the least visited protected areas in the D.R. Congo making it also a significant area where most biodiverse species endemic to Albertine rift area live.

itombwe-nature-reserveItombwe Nature Reserve was created in 2006 and it is lying within the Eastern part of Congo, South Kivu Province and West of Lake Tanganyika. Currently, the reserve is part of the remarkable high-altitude forests and the area has elevation range of 1500 to 3000m. In June 2016, the boundaries and use zones in the reserve were formalized and there are 3 zones – development zone, multiple use zone and sustainable resource extraction; conservation zone for wildlife without human use.

The Itombwe Nature Reserve lies within the Itombwe Mountains which also makes up part of the Mitumba range in the Eastern Congo within the Albertine Rift bordering the Western Rift Valley arm. The Itombwe Reserve was created with no consulting local communities and this has also created undefined legal boundaries and management resulting to conflicts between many stakeholders.

Mitumba range makes up part of the large Itombwe Massif and features a vast montane forest. Of 15000sq.kms of Itombwe Massifs, about half of it contains forest plus other unique vegetation zones like bamboo forests, low altitude forest and more. The current boundaries of Itombwe Reserve provide a surface area of about 5732sq.kms and perimeter of 568kms across the territories of Uvira, Mwenga and Shabunda.

Itombwe Nature Reserve is an important biodiversity site in Africa and Albertine Rift region. It is managed by the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN). Most of the activities are also supported by the Afri-capacity, the Worldwide Fund for Nature.

Faunal and floral species

Itombwe Nature Reserve protects important biodiverse species including the endemic species and others. There are over 1000 plant species, 750 terrestrial vertebrates, 72 species of mammals like forest elephants, Grauer’s gorillas, antelopes, and more. Itombwe Nature Reserve is a key site where the eastern lowland gorillas can be sighted in the wild. These are the massive gorillas also listed by IUCN as endangered species and they live in only D.R. Congo. A total of about 52 other globally threatened species also live within the reserve. Additionally, there are Itombwe golden frogs, Prigogine’s nightjars, swifts, and many others.

Location

Itombwe Nature Reserve (INR) is found in the Eastern D.R. Congo in South Kivu Province and West of Lake Tanganyika of Tanzania. The Itombwe Mountains make up part of the Mitumba range in the Eastern side of Congo in the Albertine rift. Its boundaries or territories stretch to cover Shabunda, Uvira and Mwenga.

Challenges and opportunities at Itombwe

Itombwe Nature Reserve is one of the new protected areas founded following a participatory process where negotiations and compromise between various stakeholders do matter. Some of the challenges still affecting wildlife conservation in Itombwe include small-scale mining and the management of immigration from other sectors.