- The spirits traditionally associated with the protection of a vital rapids and waterfall complex on the mighty Congo River have won international recognition as the Congo Brazzaville site and its spirits were included on a global protection list.
Les Rapides du Congo-Djoué, a 2,500 hectare site not far downstream from Congo's capital Brazzaville, was one of four African wetlands inscribed on the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands register of wetlands of international significance earlier this month. This will ensure stronger national and international efforts and funds to protect the area.
The largest site is the 1.525 million hectare Sangha-Nouabalé-Ndoki wetland in the north-west of Congo Brazzaville, a vast area of lakes, marshes, ponds and floodplain forests on the Sangha River, a major Congo River tributary.
According to ecologists, the area is significant in regulating flood flows and providing dry season reserves for the Congo basin generally. It is also said to be important for transport and is habitat for a number of species of conservation concern – including the Giant Pangolin, chimpanzees and leopards.
The much smaller Congo-Djoué Rapids surround a natural barrage on River Congo and its major tributary Djoué, which is said to be vital to Central Africa's two largest cities, Brazzaville, and the Democratic Republic of Congo capital of Kinshasa.
But it is also an important cultural site. The Congo-Djoué Rapids site is centred on one of three forested islands: L'Ile du Diable (Devil's Island), traditionally the home of spirits who not only protect the areas but ensure good fishing, health and influence to those initiated into their secrets.
However, for the uninitiated, the spirits – for which Nile crocodile or half-human, half-fish "sirène" tokens are venerated – can exert a malign influence.
Gilbert Madouka, of the Ministry of Tourism and the Environment and Congo Brazzaville's Ramsar representative, said the area was being recognised for its cultural as well as its environmental significance. "The sirène and the Nile Crocodile are revered in our area like gods," Mr Madouka said.
"That is why this habitat that houses the gods always causes fear among the population and access to these areas to exploit their natural resources is often based on decisions by traditional authorities – which to a certain extent, diminishes the human pressure on the area," he added.
Environmentalist groups - including WWF, which has been involved in the management of Congo Brazzaville's wetlands since 2002 - celebrate the decision to strengthen the protection of these sites and thank the Congolese spirits for their well done job to scare off intruders so far.
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