Garamba national park
History of the Park
Garamba National Park (PNG) was created by Royal Decree on 17 March 1938.
Originally, it covered an estimated area of 480,000 hectares and is located in the north-eastern corner of Belgian Congo, bordering Sudan in the province of Haut-Uele.
The Park was characterised by a limited variety of habitats: a tallgrass savannah covered most of its surface area; it was crossed annually by fires set by the locals or, more rarely, by lightning.
As a result, the park quickly gained the status of an integral nature reserve, i.e. free from human interference. The management of the park was entirely in pursuit of the objectives set out in the decree creating the Institut des Parcs Nationaux du Congo Belge (IPNCB), which consisted of "ensuring the protection of fauna and flora in the territories, promoting scientific research and encouraging tourism, in so far as this is compatible with the protection of nature" (Decree 26/11/34, Art. 2).
The reserve was established at a time when an elephant domestication station had been in operation for more than two decades, feeding its herd by catching elephants in the savannah between the Dungu and Garamba rivers. This station domesticated and trained African elephants for various agricultural tasks. For reasons of expediency, it was considered useful to allow this official service the right to carry out its catching campaigns, despite the incompatibility between this activity and the goals assigned to the reserve.
In 1929, when the creation of this park in Haut-Uele seemed desirable, the area (that had been a hunting reserve since 1920) was partially occupied by populations with vested rights essential to their subsistence and recognised by national legislation. In the following years, the populations had become scarcer for agricultural reasons. A few families were still living there in 1936, before migrating to neighbouring lands with a much higher agricultural value. Thus, unlike the creation of Albert National Park in 1925, the creation of PNG did not pose problems of population transfers or compensation, which were obstacles to the concepts of integral protection.
The first mission to the Garamba National Park was set up in 1949 by Mr. V. Van Straelen, president of the IPNCB. It was his wish that the exploration of this National Park should be undertaken without artificial disturbances. This initiative, which fell within the framework of the methodical exploration of the institute's fields, was accepted without measuring the difficulties of this undertaking and the responsibilities it would entail. Indeed, the interest presented by biogeographical environments removed from human interference was too self-evident for them to be devoted to scientific research. Moreover, much remained to be done with regard to the inventory of African fauna and flora.
Thus Mr. V. Van Straelen asked for H. De Saeger, an entomologist, and his team to take over the start and conduct of this expedition.
Objectif de l’expédition
In addition to the purely scientific interest, the economic boom of the time called for an in-depth study of ecosystems. The planned expedition was therefore to broaden the scope of biological, ethological and ecological investigations and to draw up a research framework that went beyond the limits previously reached in Central Africa in the field of natural history.
The programme of activity for this exploration was determined on May 10 by a select committee. This was composed of Mr. J. Lebrun, Secretary General of the National Institute for the Agronomic Study of the Belgian Congo, botanist and phytosociologist; E. Leloup, Director of the Laboratory at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, hydrobiologist; A. Noirfalise, Professor at the Institut Agronomique de l'Etat de Gembloux, phytosociologist and ecologist; M. Micha, Conservator of the Garamba National Park; G. Demoulin, graduate in Zoological Sciences, and H. De Saeger, entomologist, in charge of the organisation of the Mission.
In the programme of the expedition, the IPNCB envisaged not only to focus on the problems of the moment, but also to lay the indispensable foundations for further studies. It was important to go beyond the simple collection of material for systematic studies, and to carry out this initial research phase in order to establish an inventory of the flora and fauna that would form the fundamental basis for subsequent studies.
While keeping the inventory as the main objective, the expedition was also devoted to describing the biological environments, with a view to having basic elements to follow the direction of evolution and its consequences. This development of the exploration programme led to the inclusion of the study of the relationships between the various biocenotic elements and their dependence on environmental factors, thus giving it an eco-biological character (De Saeger, 1954).
The programme of work was divided into different groups, as follows:
Group A: Eco-climatological group
Group B: Pedological Group
Group C: Botanical Group
Group D: Hydrobiological Group
Group E: Zoological group: terrestrial vertebrates and invertebrates
Group F: Entomological Group
Group G: Cartographic Group
Group H: Iconographic Group
Locations of the explored areas
As the programme involved an in-depth analysis of the environment, Mr J. Lebrun recommended the adoption of a prospecting system for a few biotopes representative of the various environments that characterize the park as a whole. The region encompassing these biotopes thus constituted a biological cell. A main camp was set up in or near each cell.
The observation centres were equipped with permanent measuring devices and were visited periodically, while additional ecological observations were made at the same time as the environmental analysis. The areas of exploration were fixed and limited: (De Saeger, 1954)
- In the west, in the area of the village Bagbele
- In the north, in the border region near Mount Embe
- To the east, in the border region, towards the sources of the Kotshio and Garamba rivers.
- To the south, in the Entre-Dungu-Garamba: the far eastern region of the Park.
The choice of these regions was motivated by the following considerations:
- An existing communication route outside the Park
- The presence of a settlement of Bamboo (Oxytenanthera)
- The presence of Encephalartos, settlement of Isoberlinia and abundant fauna.
- The Entre-Dungu-Garamba was the only southern region where elephant capture campaigns had not extended their influence and included the hydrographic system of two rivers: the Dungu and the Garamba.
To ensure maximum efficiency, this mission was required to benefit from
the competence of people qualified in the various scientific disciplines that the programme covered. To this end, the following personalities were asked for their opinion and advice:
M.W. Adam, Laboratory Director at the IRScNB, for macology.
Mr. S. Frechkop, Laboratory Director and Head of the Recent Vertebrates Section at the IRScNB.
Dr. P. Gerard, Professor at the Université libre de Bruxelles, for Hystophysiology.
Mr. W. Kuczarow, Assistant at the Agrology Division of the National Institute for the Agronomic Study of the Belgian Congo in Yangambi, for Pedology.
Mr. J. Lebrun, Secretary General of the National Institute for Agronomic Studies of the Belgian Congo, for climatology and phytosociology.
Mr E. Leloup, Laboratory Director and Head of the Recent Invertebrates Section at the IRScNB, for Hydrobiology. Mr. M. Poll, Laboratory Director at the Royal Museum of Belgian Congo (Tervuren), for Ichthyology.
Dr J. Rodhain, Honorary Director of the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, for haematology.
Mr L. Van Meel, Assistant at the IRScNB, for the ecology of aquatic environments.
Mr R. Verheyen, Laboratory Director at the IRScNB for ornithology.
Mr. G. F. de Witte, Honorary Curator at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, specially qualified because of his great competence in the organisation of exploration missions in Africa, for herpetology.
The Board of Directors of the IPNCB subsidised the mission, during the three years of its activity, by means of the ordinary budget of the Institute, granted by the Minister of Colonies (De Saeger H., 1954).
The diversity of the work required the provision of a large and varied scientific equipment. This was acquired with the help of funds from the foundation for the Scientific Study of the National Parks of the Belgian Congo and with the repatriation of all the equipment, still fit for use, left over from the completion of the Upemba National Park Exploration Mission.
The fundamental basis for the exploration of the Garamba National Park was a rough cartography, which was in 1/200,000. Major M. Micha, the Garamba National Park Conservator, was responsible for drawing up maps of biological cell 1 (West Zone of the Park) and 2 (North Zone of the Park) at scales of 1/5,000 and 1/30,000 respectively. He also reconstituted a complete map of the Garamba National Park at 1/200,000 to facilitate the mission's work using existing data and his own field surveys.
The research groups used the following methods:
Pedology: Surveys were carried out over 10 square kilometres in the first biological cell, despite extrapolation of the data collected, showing boreholes in the North and South over a distance of 80 kilometres. The drill holes, varying from 1 to 6 metres in depth, were carried out according to the configuration of the terrain. Other holes were drilled in the Mount Ndele area, on the border with Sudan. The soil scientist worked closely with the botanists to carry out a further examination to establish correlations.
Botany and phytosociology: The insufficient knowledge of the African flora was an obstacle to the phytosociological investigation. It necessitated the establishment of a botanical inventory of the region before undertaking any investigation. This task was particularly assigned to Troupin (1956). However, under the circumstances in which the mission was to operate, these conditions were far from being achieved. Nevertheless, the botanists carried out a physiognomic assessment of the entire Garamba National Park and the surrounding areas, which made it possible to define the order of importance of the plant groups and to determine their ecology.
Herbarium collections, floristic and synecological studies of plant associations led to the collection of 18,000 botanical samples which were identified in situ by comparison and were not conserved. The main plant groups were also observed in terms of their relationship with the nature of the soil and their distribution according to the morphology of the terrain. For several of them the essential microclimatic characteristics were identified, the knowledge of which is of interest for the definition of biotopes (De Saeger, 1954).
Hydrobiology: The types of aquatic environments being few in number in the park, this allowed the research group to confine itself to the few representative ones in a relatively small area. The regime of the aquatic environments, conditioned by climatic extremes, leads to the variation of the water level until complete desiccation. This results in biological fluctuations. The study of these environments therefore required the monitoring of their evolution during a whole seasonal cycle from the point of view of physical, biological and chemical measurements.
Zoology: The zoology group's programme involved the research team travelling over a much larger area than that covered by specialists in other disciplines. The dispersal of ungulates meant that they had to go far beyond the framework of biological cells. Its activity was therefore essentially limited to roaming. This research group therefore undertook the prospecting of all environments (burrows, microcaves, etc.) that could serve as refuges or nesting places for the species. In the different types of savannah, survey squares were established, of a determined surface area, where all vertebrates were methodically collected.
Entomology: Researchers studied the entomological fauna inhabiting the various environments. To this end, all harvesting and observations were carried out according to the habitats. The environments under investigation always represented a landscape unit: wooded savannah, grassy savannah, marshland, etc., in which the fauna and flora of small animals, such as botanical species, ears of corn, dead wood, termite mounds, etc., were inventoried. The same environments were collected repeatedly during the same seasonal cycle, in order to determine the variations resulting from changes in mesological conditions. In addition to collecting the crops, the mission made extensive use of livestock farming despite the weather and the delicate techniques required.
Iconography: A photographic documentation was carried out in order to capture the appearance of the environments studied. Several of them were photographed a number of times, from the same location, over the course of a year. This documentation was supplemented by black and colour photographs of zoological and botanical specimens (De Saeger et al., 1954). Monitoring the evolution of a given environment over a period of time was carried out using concrete markers at selected locations. Periodically, images were taken from the same angle in order to monitor changes in the vegetation cover, to obtain data on the rate of transformation and to obtain information on phenology (De Saeger et al., 1954).
Several years were necessary to ensure the analysis of the collections collected before beginning the study. Indeed, the gatherings were considerable, especially those concerning insects (+/- 1 million specimens). For reasons of convenience and above all to save time, the zoological collections were numbered by group according to the environment, or the element of the environment in which or on which they were made. The same number could therefore correspond to a variable number of specimens ranging from one to several hundred. The figures given do not allow, at least for some of them, to appreciate the importance of the collections brought back by the expedition. They are purely indicative.
According to the research groups, the materials and organisms collected were divided into six categories who reached the following figures:
Botany: The amount of numbered herbariums was about 5000.
Vertebrates: 5,144 numbers, divided into 2,914 specimens of mammals, 3,122 of birds, 4,641 of fish, 34,511 of amphibians and 1,588 of reptiles.
Invertebrates: 2,082 numbers, including 868 harvests of terrestrial and aquatic molluscs, 321 of crustaceans, 231 of annelids and vermidians, 266 of plathelminths and nemathelminths, 243 of plankton, 35 of algae, as well as nematode mud and other miscellaneous organisms.
Entomology: 4,106 numbers, designating between 800,000 and 1,000,000 insect specimens.
Miscellaneous: 1,252 numbers of wood, ash, soil, rock and water samples; 1,032 soil samples, taken during the examination of soil profiles.
Iconography: 4,850 plates, including 1,758 in colour and approx. 1,200 m of colour film.
The documentation includes more than 15,000 crop and livestock records, providing biological, ecological and biometric information, as well as more than 1,000 thermo-hygrograms and a large number of climatological records collected at the various observation stations and in the biotopes studied.
The results of the studies carried out by the various research groups were published in the form of booklets.
De Saeger H., 1954. Exploration du Parc National de la Garamba, Introduction. Institut des Parcs Nationaux du Congo Belge, pp. 3-7, 57-106.
Frechkop S., 1941. Animaux protégés au Congo belge. Institut des Parcs Nationaux Belges, Bruxelles, pp. 379-387.