Situated in the southern part of the Maiko-Taina-Kahuzi-Biega landscape, the Itombwe forest is the largest and most remote block of intact montane forest in Africa. It has a large number of eastern lowland gorillas and eastern chimpanzees, as well as forest elephants and other endemic species.

The Itombwe Nature Reserve, a large forest block in the Albertine Rift which is an important habitat for great apes, was created in October 2006. But its boundaries and management were not clearly defined, leading to different interpretations and even conflicts between the various stakeholders. Local communities want to see part of it classified as a community forest. 

Since the creation of the reserve, WWF’s Itombwe conservation project has worked with partners including local communities to define conservation and management structures for the forest. The long-term goal is to ensure the protection of biodiversity and the Itombwe Nature Reserve with the support of local communities and indigenous peoples.


Biological surveys carried out in the 1990s helped to list 583 birdss (including 30 endemic ones) in the Albertine Rift region, and 72 mammal species (four endemic) and 23 amphibian species (16 endemic) in the Itombwe forest.


1. Establish clear boundaries for a 7,000km2 protected area and community forest in Itombwe, clarifying the 2006 order creating the Itombwe Nature Reserve.
2. Work with the private sector to minimize the negative effects of resource exploitation and promote adherence to international standards of operations.
3. Strengthen civil society as a credible and influential conservation partner.


  • ​Carrying out biological and socio-economic studies to improve understanding of the environment, people’s needs and socio-economic dynamics
  • Building the capacity of civil society organizations
  • Taking into account the rights and needs of local communities and indigenous peoples
  • Promoting alternatives to unsustainable exploitation of natural resources
  • Supporting the process of establishing the Provincial Advisory Council on Forests (CCPF), in accordance with the national Forestry Code
  • Working with communities and local authorities to define the boundaries of the Itombwe Reserve and agree on different use zones within and around the reserve
© Peter Howard
Park ranger in Dr Congo displays confisticated weapons from poachers.
© Peter Howard


Despite being relatively isolated, the Itombwe forest is under a series of threats, including artisanal logging, hunting, mining and pressure from human populations. Following almost two decades of conflict and chronic instability in the region, large numbers of people settled here and are converting the forest for agriculture and pastures. This situation is exacerbated by the discovery of valuable minerals such as coltan and cassiterite and to a lesser extent diamonds. Uncontrolled armed groups in the region fight for control of these resources. A decade of conflict has led to wide availability of arms and ammunition, and some areas remain under the control of small bands of rebels.

Destruction and degradation of great ape habitats followed by large-scale mining are the biggest threats facing the Itombwe forest.