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Programme Communautaire Sapeli

Working with communities for conservation

Where we work

Sapeli was created to support communities living in and around a protected area to realize a future that includes healthy forests, wildlife, and human populations.  Over the last 15 years, there has been an increase in commercial trades of both protected and non-protected wildlife species for consumption and income generation in Dzanga Sangha. To compete with the threat of commercial trades in wild meat and wildlife products, Sapeli takes a community-driven approach that provides incentives and opportunities to offset the benefits of illegal hunting and trade. Our approach helps communities to see that living within protected areas and alongside wildlife can have alternative benefits. We are dedicated to providing local communities with the tools to participate in conservation initiatives and supporting long-term solutions to human driven forest degradation. 

What is Dzanga Sangha?

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The Dzanga Sangha Protected Areas (APDS) are uniquely situated within the Sangha Trinational Landscape, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Officially established in 1990, the protected areas and its communities are bordered on the east by the Sangha River and the Park and Reserve complexes of APDS, and by the Republic of Congo on the west. More than 19,000 individuals across 12 villages in APDS and peripheral villages rely on this geographically complex landscape to meet their economic, nutritional, and cultural needs.


APDS is co-managed by the Ministere des Eaux, Foret, Chasse et Peche and the World Wide Fund for Nature. The forests of APDS are home to a rich tapestry of cultures and wildlife. Indigenous communities of BaAka hunter-gatherers, Sangha-Sangha fisher people and Mpiemu among other ethnolinguistic groups have migrated to the region over the years in search of opportunity and resources. 

Our Goal

To reduce human impacts in the Dzanga Sangha Protected Areas (APDS) by...

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..engaging APDS communities in conservation research.


...serving as a conduit between conservation and APDS communities to help develop solutions that benefit both.

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...creating an accessible place where community actors can meet freely to discuss issues pertaining to daily life and conservation.

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Why "Sapeli"?

Sapeli is the common trade name, globally and locally, for the large African hardwood tree Entandrophragma cylindricum. In local dialect Sapeli is called “Mboyo.” On this tree you can find one of the most sought-after caterpillar species (Imbrasia oyemensis, also called Mboyo) during the collecting season from August-September. The gathering of the Mboyo caterpillar that fall from this tree is a collective event that generates a vital source of protein and income for local populations.

The bark of Sapeli is also important in the preparation of traditional medicines. Its branches are a resting place for birds and monkeys, and its trunks an important marker of elephant pathways through the forests. These same pathways guide community members, rangers, and visitors on their way through the forests of Dzanga Sangha.  

The Sapeli tree species has historical and contemporary significance in the timber trades of Central African Republic and the broader Congo Basin. The presence of this species and other desirable hardwoods have played a role in cyclical opening and closing of logging concessions and waves of migration of people to the Dzanga-Sangha region over the last decades leading to a diverse cultural landscape. 

The presence of this tree in the forest represents a forest that is “still there” to provide for those in need. Because of this, the Sapeli tree was chosen to represent the vision of our community program that emphasizes meeting the needs of people and wildlife.

Our Activities

We carry out activities that prioritize community voices. Our work is supported by grants and donors like you.

Read about our current projects below...

Giving a platform for community voices

Sapeli has created a community representative program (ReCo) in three of the seven communities found within the boundaries of APDS. ReCo members attend meetings at the Sapeli office where they have the opportunity to voice any concerns or needs of their community, and where they are able to obtain information about programming that they can relay back to their communities. The primary aim of the ReCo program is to maintain clear pathways of communication, allowing direct participation of community members to help shape and inform programming that meets their needs.

Carrying out socioeconomic and demographic studies

We have supported large-scale socioeconomic and demographic studies, including locally developed, culturally relevant indicators of well-being to allow for long-term monitoring of the effects of conservation interventions, market studies, self-reporting hunting studies, and participatory mapping projects.

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Community Camera Trapping

Three of the four African pangolin species are found in APDS: the giant, white-bellied, and black-bellied pangolins. Populations of pangolins have severely declined due to illegal and unsustainable hunting and trade for their meat and scales. Habitat loss from agricultural expansion is also a threat contributing to their decline. Pangolins are elusive and difficult to detect in the wild and there is a critical need to develop ecological methods to understand their status in APDS and the impact of local exploitation.

We developed the Community Camera Trapping program to assess the distribution and abundance of pangolins and other threatened species in APDS and to evaluate the effectiveness of engaging local communities in conservation research that offers them a viable alternative to hunting and trade.

Community members place camera traps in the forest adjacent to their locale and are trained to analyze the image data. Images of animals generate points, and those points translate into monetary benefits that are distributed to the community on a monthly basis. By associating the presence of wildlife with tangible benefits, we hope to shift the perspectives on the value of wildlife and to motivate communities to protect the animals in the forest.


Monitoring Wildlife Trade

Wild meat generates great economic returns for local communities, but can contribute to declining animal populations. Monitoring wild meat trade in markets is a low-cost method that can be used to assess impacts of hunting. Working with the co-management unit of APDS, market women and legal hunting associations, we have helped to monitor commercial and subsistence wild meat trades to better understand the impacts of hunting on animal populations and sustainable solutions. 


Sapeli collaborates with the co-management unit of the Dzanga Sangha Protected Areas, as well as local authorities, traditional leaders, and APDS communities. We also engage with local civil associations to understand the interests and needs of the broader Dzanga community and work with the Sangha Pangolin Project based out of Sangha Lodge.

Our Partners

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Our Funders

The Community Camera Trapping Program is funded by Pangolin Crisis Fund and Sacharuna Foundation and relies on donations to operate. 

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Learn  About Pangolins

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