HTML Document Upemba national park

Release date 19/11/2020

History of the Park

The Upemba National Park (PNU) was created by the decree of 15 May 1939.

At the time of its construction, the PNU, an integral nature reserve, occupies an area of approximately 1,773,000 ha, i.e. an area equal to almost 3/5 of the whole of Belgium. The reserve is the largest of the Congolese protected areas and the only one that is not adjacent to foreign territory. It is located in the Elisabethville province of present-day Katanga, in the Lualaba lakes region.

Its management was entrusted to the "Institut des Parcs Nationaux du Congo" and was entirely in line with the objectives set out in the decree creating the Institut des Parcs Nationaux du Congo. It was a question 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 establishment of the park in this region was related to the richness of its flora, fauna and its very varied natural aspects. Indeed, previous expeditions described countless numbers of elephants, hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius), black rhino (Diceros bicornis) and other large animals. Also, the physiography of the Park showed vast savannahs with low relief, an area in the Kamolondo-Upemba depression in the north-west and a heavily gullied area towards the north-east in the foothills of the Kibara Mountains.

The Lufira Basin, from the Kiubo Falls to its mouth, or, more precisely, to the point where it gets lost in the swampy expansions of the Upemba and Kisale lakes, was entirely included in the National Park.

Other features, such as the plains covered by a savannah frequently marked by the influence of fire, whether natural or artificial, were taken into account in the delimitation of the Park.

In 1939, certain areas of the region were occupied by populations with vested rights essential to land ownership. However, the preliminary work to set up the park did not take this into account, and used the presence of the Tse-Tse fly as an argument to justify the evacuation of the population. The colonial authority thus aroused resentment towards the National Park. In addition, they forced people to leave the land in return for financial compensation to the customary political authorities. However, the traditional customary system distinguishes the political chief from the chief of the land, who is the real owner of the land (U.S. Fish & Wildlife, 2009).

Five years after the establishment of the park, people began to make claims to their land. Successive commissions were set up to resolve these disagreements until the 1952-53 commission had a disastrous effect on the negotiations and led to the invasion of the park, mainly in its northern and western parts. From that moment on, poaching appeared in a frantic manner and led to the disappearance of the black rhinoceros in the region.

In 1957, these various tensions were eased by a partial retrocession of land to the population by the commission in place. But from 1960, after the Katangese secession, the situation deteriorated. The park, which covered several thousand hectares, was reduced to 300,000 hectares, of which only 12,000 hectares were preserved by guards as a haven for animals.

Scientific missions

As soon as the park was created in 1939, the IPNCB Management Committee decided to send a scientific exploration mission there. This mission began six years later, in 1946, and ended in 1949. Its direction was entrusted to Gaston-François de Witte by the Administrative Commission of the Institute of National Parks of Congo, chaired at that time by Victor Van Straelen, Director of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences.

Objectives of the mission

The main aim of this mission was to draw up an inventory, as complete as possible, of the flora and fauna of this nature reserve. The war of 1940-1945 temporarily prevented the realization of this project, which could only be resumed after the cessation of hostilities.


The mission was made possible not only thanks to the support of the IPNCB, but also with the help of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences.


The preparation was organised with the greatest care, starting in 1945.

A first inspection mission took place in the park, which enabled an initial survey of the area to be carried out and a programme of activities to be sketched out. Then, above all, staff had to be recruited to ensure that this future mission went smoothly.

Two hunter preparers and two taxidermists trained at Albert National Park joined the team of 42 men, each with a speciality.

Camps were set up for varying lengths of time in selected areas, allowing for the methodical exploration of different environments, taking into account altitude and seasonal variations.

The following list gives the locations where the camps were established:

  1. Lusinga: Central post of the Upemba Park, located on the Lusinga hill at an altitude of 1,810m.
  2. Region of the confluence of the rivers Munte and Mubale: at 1,480 m in a marshy area,

    near the head of the Bungushi River spring.

    III. Pelengue River Valley: In the gorges of the river, between 1,250 and 1,600m.

  1. Mabwe: On the shores of Lake Upemba at 585m.
  2. Kanonga: Located in the heart of the Katangan forest between 675 and 860 m altitude.
  3. Kalule - North: Towards Kembwile, in the Katangese forest.

    VII. Kankunda : This region is located almost at the edge of the plateau at an altitude of 1,300 m.

    VIII. Shinkulu: On the right bank of the Lufira river, in a mountainous region.

  1. Kaziba: Located near the Senze River.
  2. Buye-bala: Name of a small river of the high plateau, tributary of the Muye river.
  3. Kabwe: This camp is on the upper reaches of the Muye River.

    XII. Munoi: On the steep escarpment of the Lufira valley.

    XIII. Kilwezi

    XIV. Ganza: A rocky region with salt springs and difficult access.Résultats

Once the botanical and zoological specimens were collected, they were sent to the central park post in Lusinga. In March 1965, 148 studies related to this mission were published. The number of new forms described was 1,889, distributed as follows:   



 New species








 1500 à 2000



 100 000






 100 000



Plusieurs milliers     






 5 à 6 millions












 9 000



 83 771



 8 601



 5 297



 1 610



All of these collections are accompanied by an extensive photographic documentation containing more than 9,500 photographs, both in black and white and in colour, relating to flora and fauna. Two films have been made, one in black and white and one in colour, illustrating the activities of the mission.

The results of the studies carried out during this mission were published in the G. F. de Witte mission booklets.


Adam W., 1952. Le Parc National de l’Upemba. Extraits de « Reflets du Monde » pp. 1-3.

De Witte G. F., 1966. Fascicule1: Introduction. Exploration du Parc National de l’Upemba. Institut des Parcs Nationaux Belges, Bruxelles, pp. 5.

Frechkop S., 1953. Animaux protégés au Congo belge. Institut des Parcs Nationaux Belges, Bruxelles, pp 456-457.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife, 2009. Recensement des Grands Mammifères & Impacts humains. Parcs Nationaux de l’Upemba & des Kundelungu, RDC, 31 p.