TEAM MEMBERS: Chinko Research Team (about 20 Central African citizens trained as research assistants), Michael J. Fay and employees of African Park Network in Chinko.
PARTNER(S) & SUPPORTER(S):
The Chinko Conservation Area is actively managed and supported by the NGO African Parks Network which is itself financed by different institutions and private donors.
- There are mainly three clusters of hippos within the actively managed core zone of the Chinko nature reserve:
I. one (>10) in the west along the Mbari River at the edge of the reserve and therefore still temporary exposed to human impact,
II. a second cluster (>10, <50) in and around the Ngoy lakes in a very well protected and for law enforcement easily accessible part of the core zone and
III. the largest population (>100) along the Chinko River with optimal habitat and partly well protected shores within the core zone but still some movements of poachers up- and downstream.
- after being functionally extinct in the ecosystem hippos start again on small patches of riverine habitat within the core zone to manipulate their environment (open water surface in vegetation rich ponds, trample down riverine vegetation and create small areas of short grass meadows). These habitat engineering effects of hippos are extremely important in eastern CAR to keep habitats and biodiversity in a long term since silting of open surface water and succession with shrubs and trees is omnipresent in Chinko (observation by Aebischer T. 2018) as well as the large National Park's Gounda - St. Floris and Bamingui-Bangoran in the North (Fay M. and Elkan P. 2018). It is therefore very likely that most grazers will benefit from short grass meadows, fish and other aquatic species from open surface water and this higher biomass is likely to promote also apex predators.
- after the local extinction of giraffes, white- and black rhinos as well the functional loss of elephants, hippos are the last true mega-herbivores still occurring in Chinko in significant numbers. Therefore, the board and management of Chinko decided to treat hippos as a key species for the long term conservation of habitats and biodiversity in Eastern CAR.
- several poacher camps could be seized by
rangers along the Mbari, Chinko and Vovodo River in 2018 and in most of them
remains of hippos could be found. Ranger confiscated dozens of meters of hippo
skin dried and processed to be sold in Sudan and to make ropes out of it. We
have strong evidences that hippos are now a focal species of poacher after the
elephant population crashed in the region.
Progress in 2020
1. In 2020 APN-RCA could keep more than 23'000 km2 free of pastoralists with their livestock and major poaching activities. Wildlife including the common hippopotamus in Eastern CAR were therefore actively protected on large-scale.
2. Ongoing aerial surveillance, reports from ground teams in the field and monitoring surveys confirm the permanent presence and successful reproduction of common hippopotamuses in the main rivers Chinko and Vovodo between 5.2°N 7.0°N along more than 600 km of continuous pristine prime freshwater river habitat. Furthermore, at least two hippo populations in small lake systems along the Mbari River are well protected and reproducing and the presence of more hippo individuals could be documented in the Mbari River further downstream.
3. Chinko is already a stronghold for hippopotamus in the CAR and has high potential to harbour a large population of this megaherbivores. Additional efforts are made to better preserve the last hippos and their habitat along the Chinko including training of RANGER and unarmed ECHO sensitization teams in the use of boats for river patrols and the establishment of permanent and temporary camps along the river that could later be used for high-end low impact tourism.
4. Active collaboration and ongoing sensitization with local fishermen and hunters mainly from Rafai, Bangassou and Ouango helps to show the important ecological role of hippopotamus and to raise awareness to protect them and mitigate conflicts if they appear.