Unesco adds African national parks to its list of World Heritage Sites

L’Hoest monkey. | Supplied

L’Hoest monkey. | Supplied

Published Oct 2, 2023


Director of Conservation Development at African Parks, Jean Labuschagne, sheds light on the importance of maintaining our planet’s biodiversity after two African parks were added to the list of World Heritage.

In her explanation, Labuschagne details the selection of Odzala-Kokoua National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nyungwe National Park in Rwanda as Unesco World Heritage Sites.

In addition to stating that our sites must be of great universal importance and satisfy at least one out of 10 selection criteria, she says their biodiversity is the reason they were recognised.

Forest elephants. | Supplied

In this instance, “to be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals”, and also “to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation,” says Labuschagne.

She says the clue to their global importance is in that wording: these are places where there is a rich abundance of various animal and plant species.

Odzala-Kokoua National Park is a convergence point of multiple ecosystem types, including Congolese Forest, Lower Guinean Forest and Savanna.

The park is one of the most important strongholds for forest elephants in Central Africa and is recognised as the park with the richest primate diversity in the region.

Nyungwe National Park contains the most significant natural habitats for a number of species found in no other region of the world, including the globally threatened Eastern chimpanzee and the critically endangered Hills Horseshoe Bat.

Nyungwe is one of the oldest rainforests in Africa and the largest expanse of forest in Rwanda. The park feeds two of the world’s largest rivers, the Congo and the Nile, and provides a significant portion of Rwanda’s freshwater.

“I have personally had the extreme privilege and joy of standing beneath the ancient trees of both of these forest national parks. To look up into the network of interlinking branches silhouetted against the sky feels like looking into the very heart of our planet. A network of veins and arteries keeps us alive. Standing in that mystical, dappled light, one can’t help but inherently understand the importance of protecting these natural systems. There is more to it than simple sentiment,” she says.

She further touches on the need for strong, thriving environments for humanity to survive, mentioning that the most effective solution we have to ensure healthy ecosystems that sustain all life on earth is to protect and conserve the areas that still exist.