Staff Spotlight: Toussaint Molenge

While growing up in his home village of Binga in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Toussaint Molenge enjoyed exploring the rich rainforests and hunting alongside his father. After witnessing the region’s increasing biodiversity loss, Toussaint decided to devote himself to conserving the region’s biodiversity and protecting its remaining wildlife.

The Central African rainforest is the second largest tropical rainforest in the world. It spans the DRC and several other countries in the region, and contains a wide variety of wildlife, including gorillas, chimpanzees, forest and savanna elephants, lions, and leopards. Almost 80 million people depend on the rainforest for their livelihoods. Unfortunately, poverty and instability are causing local communities to increasingly turn to poaching and wildlife trafficking, threatening the survival of the region’s iconic species. “Corruption, weak capacity of institutions, and poor governance in the region are fueling wildlife trafficking,” Toussaint explains, “and challenges to accessibility require that we sometimes have to go through neighboring countries to access our protected areas.” 

Toussaint earned a bachelor’s degree in Agronomy from the University of Kinshasa in DRC and a master’s degree in Wildlife Management Systems from Nazi Boni University in Burkina Faso. As a Program Management Specialist at USAID/DRC, Toussaint manages multi-donor, broad-scale conservation programs that improve the management of protected areas, combat wildlife trafficking, and encourage conservation policy reform across Central Africa. 

Toussaint began his career in biodiversity conservation in 2010 at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on the USAID Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE), which was implemented by IUCN under a USAID grant. The program goals are to strengthen policy and build stakeholder capacity for biodiversity conservation and wildlife management in the DRC, among other countries in the Central Africa region. He has been a Program Management Specialist at USAID since 2015, where he leads the Mission’s activities focused on combating wildlife trafficking. Toussaint currently serves as the Agreement Officer’s Representative for three CARPE activities that support vital conservation areas: the Garamba-Chinko Protected Areas project, the Community-Based Counter Wildlife Trafficking Activity, and the Building Effective Management and Sustainable Financing of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve through a Public-Private Partnership Program.

The USAID Garamba-Chinko Protected Areas project (2016-2024) aims to strengthen regional capacity for biodiversity conservation planning and improve local governance, security, and stability in a precarious region where illicit trafficking, poaching, and rebel group movement threaten wildlife. It is implemented in Garamba National Park, one of the oldest national parks in Africa, and Chinko Nature Reserve, both in the DRC. To protect biodiversity in these areas, the project is recruiting park rangers, supporting a regional early warning system to connect remote communities with local law enforcement, and improving road maintenance to increase access to protected areas. 

The early warning systems around Garamba National Park have helped communities prevent attacks from armed groups and communicate threats to Park authorities. “[The] result … of this collaboration is that attacks in villages are significantly reduced, and at the same time, the number of elephants poached is also dramatically reduced,” Toussaint says.

USAID’s Community-Based Counter Wildlife Trafficking (CBCWT) Activity (2018-2023) worked to build sustainable partnerships with protected area management teams in the Mbomou-Uele landscape located between the DRC and the Central African Republic. The CBCWT Activity engaged local communities in information-sharing for the conservation of the Garamba Complex landscape, Chinko Nature Reserve, and Bili-Uere Hunting Reserve; promoted sustainable farming practices in and around the targeted protected areas; and improved land use planning, coordination, and education. 

Under the CBCWT Activity, USAID assembled local community members into Natural Resource Management Committees to learn about and implement sustainable agriculture, beekeeping, livestock, and fish farming practices promoted by the Park. More than 1,200 community members have participated in these courses to date.

The purpose of the USAID-funded Building Effective Management and Sustainable Financing of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve through a Public-Private Partnership Program (2020-2025) is to secure and restore the unique biodiversity and forests of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve and support the economic and socio-cultural needs of the local Indigenous Efe and Mbuti Peoples. The Okapi Wildlife Reserve is an expansive lowland rainforest in northeastern DRC that contains one of the country’s largest remaining forest elephant populations and the largest population of okapi, DRC’s national animal. The program is tackling criminal activity, improving management capacity, and building constituencies and governance systems. 

The program has delivered 95 ranger training courses, improved the Okapi Wildlife Reserve’s aircraft used for aerial monitoring and medical evacuation, and helped the surrounding Epulu, Eboyo, and Bapukeli communities form conservation-focused microenterprises, such as sales of agricultural products (palm oil, beans, rice), chicken farming, and goat and pig breeding.

Toussaint envisions a Central African region full of healthy ecosystems and dynamic local leadership that supports stable and prosperous communities. He is hopeful that in the future, “environmental degradation and biodiversity loss in Africa will be significantly reduced, species and ecosystem services will be providing sustainable finances for economic development, and there will be equitable benefit sharing of natural resources.”