Written by: Adam Parkison
In the far south-eastern corner of the Central African Republic in the Chinko River basin, the savannah meets the rainforest. It is a one-of-a-kind biotope, where iconic species of the Congolian lowland forest, and the Sudano-Guinean savannah live alongside one another.
In the savannah, Lord Derby eland, savannah buffalo, warthog, hartebeest, waterbuck and lion make their presence known, and just inside the darkness of the forest mosaics, the mythical bongo, giant forest hog, yellow-backed duiker, leopard, and the rare forest elephant move about cautiously.
Geographically remote and isolated by thick bush, the area has had no human settlements in recent history. Very little is known about the mysterious wilderness, and new discoveries are being made every year. This year alone, the discovery of a previously unknown chimpanzee population surprised researchers, as did the presence of the white-bellied duiker and savannah mongoose – among many others. Recent surveys have also confirmed the Chinko River basin has one of the largest, most important population of wild dogs left in central Africa.
The 17,600km² reserve was previously a hunting reserve, but after having worked in the area for a few seasons, the staff and visiting researchers began to realise the potential magnitude of the unique biodiversity there, and the necessity to preserve it. British born David Simpson, the original co-creator of the Chinko Project, now manages the Chinko Protected Area. In December 2014, the Chinko area officially joined the ranks of other unique protected areas throughout Africa, under the care and management of the extremely successful African Parks.
Despite the remoteness, the area has come under threat of overexploitation and poaching. Since the 1980s, the area’s once abundant elephant population has crashed perilously low with the arrival of AK-47 wielding Sudanese poachers, and recently, the arrival of the infamous Lords Resistance Army rebel group. Nomadic cow herdsman have also flooded the area in pursuit of better grazing. In their wake, they leave dusty, overgrazed land, and the carcasses of poached animals. To curtail the poaching pressure, Chinko is currently training park rangers and implementing a comprehensive policing program.
The incredible Chinko River basin proves there are still a few blank spots on the continent’s map that are worth protecting.
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