Garamba National Park was established in 1938 and is one of the first national parks in Africa. This 4,920 km² (1,900 miles²) area in the northeastern corner of Congo transitions from savanna to dense tropical forests and includes marshland, wide rivers and the gallery forests that line their banks.
Garamba National Park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. This esteemed designation was awarded due to its extraordinary variety and density of plant life as well as the fact that it is the natural habitat for four of the world’s largest mammals: the elephant, the rhinoceros, the giraffe and the hippopotamus.
Unfortunately, since this designation over thirty years ago, the northern white rhino numbers have declined, primarily due to poaching, until it is now suspected of being extinct in the wild: the last sighting was in 2007. Other subspecies of rhinoceros, the southern white rhino and the black rhino, continue to roam freely in their natural habitats. Fortunately, a strong national park system in Africa, combined with a phenomenal increase in tourism in the past sixty years, provides the much needed dedication to conservation and an ever-increasing level of economic stability that is necessary to preserve the amazing biodiversity of this magical country.
The establishment of the park followed the unique project known as the Gangala na Bodio Elephant Domestication Center, created in 1920 to domesticate elephants to work in agricultural fields. Thousands of elephants still wander Garamba National Park in herds numbering into the hundreds. A program developed in the 1960s trained the enormous elephants to be saddled so tourists could experience the highly unusual elephant back safari.
In addition to elephants, spectacular viewing of buffalo and hippopotamus is also possible. The Congolese giraffe is a park native. Large and small antelope species can be seen in the park including bushbuck, waterbuck, oribi, Uganda kob, duiker and the nocturnal striped bongo who hides in the forests. Predators that stalk the savannas include spotted hyaena, leopard, lion and the medium-sized, spotted serval with its large ears and housecat face.
A variety of diurnal primates call Garamba National Park their home, including the shaggy colobus, the Patas monkey with his white mustache, the little smiling vervet monkey, the bearded De Brazza's monkey with his funky hair-do and the chatty chimpanzee.
Over 340 species of birds have been identified in Garamba. The richly colored red and blue carmine bee-eater can be seen congregating in huge flocks along the forested banks of the River Dungu. Meanwhile, if you see the subspecies of heron known as the cattle egret circling in the air, you’ll know a herd of buffalo is below them—they will land on the buffalo’s back and groom them.
Garamba National Park is leading the way in terms of state of the art conservation. One of the activities available at the park is to join the wildlife monitoring team and participate in their research into chimpanzees, lions and hyaenas. An amazing learning opportunity!
The wet season in Garamba is from June to December. The best time to visit Garamba National Park is from January to June, when the grass is still short enough to allow for good game visibility.