Game on! Football helps kick-start conservation in Garamba National Park

Can you imagine a more terrifying adversary to tackle on the football pitch than a team of 11 rhinos?

That is the prospect facing opponents of a new youth team at Garamba National Park, who have named themselves The Northern White Rhinos after one of the region’s most iconic animals.

Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was once home to the last remaining wild population of northern white rhinoceros, but with no sightings since 2007 this species is sadly now thought to be extinct in the wild.

In 2009, the final four breeding individuals were translocated from a zoo to Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy in a dramatic attempt to save these animals from complete annihilation.

One of the last remaining northern white rhinos (photo credit: Ol Pejeta Conservancy).

The story of the northern white rhino, which is tinged with both regret and hope, serves as a potent reminder both of mankind’s impact on nature and the enormous lengths we will go to in the name of conservation.

It is therefore quite fitting that, when Fauna & Flora International (FFI) set up an initiative in Garamba to get young people involved in conservation through football, the team decided to name themselves after this species.

Rhinos on the football pitch.

To achieve this, FFI is working with the African Parks Network, providing football equipment and organising tournaments that bring sport-loving locals together, whilst giving Garamba staff the chance to tell them about the park’s natural resources and law enforcement.

This project has been extremely successful so far, with participants even forming their own association to work on community projects in and around the park.

New wells built by the team provide safe drinking water for local communities.

A number of people have also been recruited as rangers through the initiative, providing a real boost to the park’s neighbouring communities.

Community co-management of Garamba National Park

This project forms just part of FFI’s work in Garamba National Park, which aims to get local people involved in co-management of the park and create new trade and employment opportunities through sustainable use of the park’s resources.

In collaboration with the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN), FFI has already helped create 12 committees and is working with around 33 local associations that are responsible for developing and managing 32 livelihood projects.

FFI has also played a key role in educating more than 40,000 people about the park’s biodiversity and the part they can play in its conservation and sustainable management.