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Pongara Interactive Map
Pongara Interactive Map
Login to view georeferenced community data Mvan Ayong Chinchoua Atonda Simba Bissobinam-Odoko Oveng-Alarmeke-Matek Mavi Point Dénis Fishing in Pongara Farming in Pongara Pongara mapping teams 2 Pongara mapping teams 1 Mapping Workshop, Pointe Dénis, 2010 Logging activities in Pongara

Pongara National Park, covering an area of 929 square kilometres, is located in the Estuaire Province in the West of Gabon, at its nearest point only 20km across the peninsula from Libreville. Despite its proximity to the capital, Pongara contains important humid forest coastal eco-systems and, along with nearby Akanda National Park, comprises 25% of the total conserved mangrove in the African continent. As well as important populations of chimpanzees and hippopotami, the area is also abundant with marine life such as the critically endangered Leatherback sea turtle. Threats to the Park include poaching, illegal exploitation of the mangroves (used for smoking fish), industrial scale fishing off the coast and logging to the south. 

Pongara is not only characterized by an abundance of fauna and flora but by the diversity of its human inhabitants. Ethnic groups such as the Fang, Npongwé, Punu, Vungu, Giza and Bahumbu, as well as immigrant communities from Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria, are all to be found in the nine villages which fall within the boundaries of Pongara National Park (specifically, the villages of Pointe-Dénis, Matek-Mavi, Oveng, Alarmeke, Chinchoua, Mvan Ayong, Atonda Simba, Bissobinam and Odoko). Historically, the area is associated with the indigenous Akoa although it is unclear to what extent they have been assimilated. The area also boasts a royal lineage with a Princess Akombiet, granddaughter to the King Dénis Rapotchombo and guardian of the traditions of Point Dénis. Pongara is home to a number of sacred sites and is a place of spiritual importance for local people and inhabitants of Libreville alike.

Despite the presence of the Park, many communities regard this area as their ancestral land, considering their traditional forms of land tenure and usage rights to still be applicable. These customs require that outsiders must seek prior authorization from traditional land owners in order to carry out activities on the land. Despite this, communities say that they were not fully consulted when the Park was created in 2002, and that their understanding of its boundaries and restrictions remain unclear. Other than the tourist resorts around the northern tip of the Park, communities here live primarily from subsistence farming, fishing and hunting, the latter two of which are now deemed illegal under the National Parks Law. Conflicts have also arisen over animals attacking plantations, a threat which communities report as having increased since 2002. Communities haven't been compensated for this loss, nor have they really benefited from the Park - either through employment, alternative livelihood opportunities or through the provision of schools, medical facilities or other services.

 

The mapping project is working with local communities and the Park management in order to resolve the conflicts ensuing from these overlapping and somewhat contradictory land tenure and resource management systems. Encouragingly, the National Parks Law of 2007 recognizes that conservation will not work without the engagement of local communities and promotes participatory management of the parks, as well as protecting certain customary rights and zoning of community and peripheral areas.

In April 2010, representatives of the National Parks Agency (ANPN), along with other members of the Gabonese administration (Ministry of Forests, Ministry of Mines), joined members of local civil society (Aventures sans frontières (ASF) and Ariga) in facilitating a participatory mapping exercise with local communities inside the Pongara National Park. In total, 28 facilitators helped to train 14 community mappers in the use of GPS points in order to document their land and resource use in the Park. The geo-referenced maps produced reveal the complexity and extent of forest use and land tenure in the area and will enable real and meaningful dialogue between the parties.

It is envisaged that this initiative will help enable the coexistence of people and the Park, and that it will see communities becoming more involved in decision making and the management of the area, for example, through the creation of local management committees, land management contracts, zoning of the area and the development of the management plan. Generally speaking, participatory mapping can serve as a key tool to support more progressive elements of Gabon's National Parks Law.

 

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