Despite the current global covid-19 pandemic, there is good news for wildlife conservation in the African countries of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2020, upwards of 580 elephants from Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park successfully crossed the border into the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park, the oldest protected area on the continent. This surprise herd migration now brings the total number of elephants in Virunga to roughly 700 individuals, up from only around 120 individuals. For park administrators, this marks a huge win in the battle to save elephants from extinction.
A bull elephant in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park. Michael Schwartz.
The benefits of elephant migration include not only a marked increase in numbers, but also population dispersal to ease elephant overpopulation in Queen Elizabeth National Park, the potential for an increase in migration to and from both parks and an overall increase in species biodiversity in Virunga. Concerning the latter, the new population of elephants added to Virunga National Park will aid in controlling invasive plant species and pave the way for other species to migrate into Virunga National Park. Species that are already migrating as a result of elephant movement include Ugandan kob, buffalo, topi, warthog, and even lions, two of which were spotted by park officials.
In response to the success story, park officials in both countries are now bolstering security efforts to ensure that wildlife—native and returning—are kept safe from armed rebel groups and other poaching dangers. Thanks to emergency funds released from The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, administrators have since built security walls, hired on additional workers for security and to remove snares and have partnered with local communities to provide economic development.