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The Botanical Gardens of Zaire and the Present State of Biodiversity in Zaire

Volume 2 Number 7 - December 1996

Kibungu Kembelo

There are 2 main botanic gardens in our country both situated near urban centres. The Botanic Garden of Eala at Mbandaka, in the equatorial region and the Botanic Garden of Kisantu in the lower Zaire region, 120km away from Kinshasa. They were both created at the same time (1900) - Eala by the Congolese state, thanks to the initiative of Professor E. Laurent from Gembloux and Kisantu by the Jesuit, FrŠre Justin Gillet with financial support from the state. Both these renowned gardens will soon reach their centenary.

The 1st national seminar on the state of biodiversity of Zaire has outlined a strategy for protected areas. A conference organised by the Institut des Jardins Ecologiques et Botaniques du Zaire (IJZBZ) will help to define more precisely the conservation problems in zoological and botanical gardens, as the 1st national seminar dealt mainly with the state of National parks. We are especially thankful to the General Secretary and to the Ministry for Environment, Conservation and Tourism of Zaire (ECNT) who have underlined this omission and asked that in future seminars on biodiversity, zoological and botanical gardens must be included. However, all participants have unanimously acknowledged that protected areas are insufficiently protected and that they are subject to ever increasing economic and demographic pressures. This requires a new strategy for conservation of biodiversity in our country and a national action plan for the environment in the context of Agenda 21. Our country has signed the resolution of Rio 92 and the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1994.

Present State of Botanic Gardens in Zaire

The Botanic Garden of Eala represents the floristic richness of Central Africa with between 4 to 5,000 local species. It has an area of approximately 370 ha with special collections (125 ha), forest reserve (190 ha), marshland (50 ha) and savanna "Euobe" (7 ha). The garden is neglected, the area is not fenced and there is unplanned felling of trees. In parts it is poorly defined and the maps and registration certificates are missing. The last catalogue was published in 1924 by Goossens.

The Botanic Garden of Kisantu is in a better state than that of Eala with between 2,500 to 3,000 species in cultivation. It has an area of 225 ha which includes 100 ha of Fráre Gillet's garden. The introduced plants include a Palmetum (105 sp), an arboretum (200 sp of Zairean trees), pergolas, trees and succulent greenhouse (147 sp), orchid collection (once 200 sp), a herb garden, medicinal, economic and decorative plants, a Citrus, coffee and mangosteen collection, a banana plantation, vegetable garden, nursery and fruit collection. In 1975, 125 ha of local savanna were added. The collection has a great many old specimens which might be dangerous to the public and there are many undesirable introductions in the savanna. There are no registration certificates for the site. The last catalogue was published in 1972 by L. Pauwels. A new edition is in progress.

Both gardens have herbaria (Eala: 12,000 sheets; Kisantu: 6,000 sheets), museums and libraries (Eala: 4,000 books; Kisantu: 3,200 books). The exhibits and books are in need of restoration and rearrangement. Kisantu Botanic Garden has a cafe-restaurant (1972) but on the whole the public facilities in both gardens are insufficient and need maintenance and improvement.

Botanic Gardens and Biodiversity

Of the estimated 5,000 species held in the Botanic Garden of Eala only 1% are introduced species. Whereas in Kisantu, the ratio of introduced to native species is 3:1. At Kisantu, the local savanna has become gradually invaded by introduced plant species thus becoming a "forest". For nearly a century, we have been growing over 2,000 species of foreign plants converting the local savanna ecosystem into a "forest". This has resulted in the loss of genetic and cultural diversity and the disappearance of characteristic savanna species. The loss of genetic diversity leads to cultural loss, for example the use of local edible fruits and corms and also leads to changes in the local fauna.

Eala Botanic Garden needs to control introduced species such as Hevea, guava, Inga, Cecropia and fodder crops and Kisantu Botanic Garden needs to control introduced species such as Chromolaena odorata and reintroduce local species to improve genetic and cultural diversity.

On the whole, the inventories of these two gardens are not complete, especially in the marshy areas. The Eala botanic Garden must direct its efforts towards the publication of a new catalogue before the end of the century.

There is no scientific research at Eala Botanic Garden. The plans for the future include research on medicinal plants and plants used as insecticides.

The Kisantu Botanic Garden undertakes research in arboriculture with a recent publication on Artocarpus. Kisantu Botanic Garden is responsible for the introduction of robusta coffee from the Ivory Coast Republic, guava, dwarf banana plants (Ghent University), Citrus (selected varieties of M'VWAZI). Future plans include host plants for caterpillars, edible indigenous plant species (fruits, vegetable, tubers), medicinal plants (Kalaharia incinata), basic ecological research (impact of introduced plant species on the local environment).

At the moment education and training is confined to guided tours lead by students and local societies. There is no programme or specialist staff. The gardens would like to publish a new book for schools, employ education staff and provide training for technical staff.

To encourage tourism and recreation both gardens need to promote their activities. Eala Botanic Garden needs an information centre and restaurant with a guest house and conference hall for research personnel. Kisantu Botanic Garden needs an improved visitor centre with trained staff, recreation garden, swimming pool and motel.

The problems encountered in both Botanic Gardens are lack of tools and equipment for maintenance and repair, lack of security, lack of phyto-sanitary chemicals, low staff morale, no funding for the promotion of tourism and at Kisantu Botanic Garden high charges for water and electricity.


The most important measures for the protection of these botanic gardens meet the recommendations of the 1st seminar on biodiversity especially:

  • recognition and respect for the law and rules
  • involvement and participation of local communities through education and social plans financed by funds generated by tourism
  • creation of a buffer zone between protected areas and local communities
  • registration of the Botanic Gardens with UNESCO in order to apply for material and financial support which they often lack.

Regarding the strategy for conservation of biodiversity and of a sustainable use of resources - the Botanic Garden of Eala should direct its efforts towards in situ conservation while controlling introduced species. The objectives of the Kisantu Botanic Garden for the 21st century should be the re-establishment of the genetic diversity of local species and local crop varieties.

The creation of a National Herbarium and a Museum of Natural History is highly desirable.

It is the right time to prepare new strategies for our botanic gardens in line with the world global strategy for conservation and this will be defined at the end of the seminars on the state of biodiversity in Zaire.

And lastly I wish that the first centenary of the two botanic gardens be considered as an important event and duly celebrated.

Kibungu Kembelo,
Jardin botanique de Kisantu, Zaire
First Published in BGCNews Vol. 2 No. 7, Dec 1996