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Chief Nkonsango Ndala


The hospital and clean water have greatly improved health in our village, and we are looking forward to building a new school soon. We also appreciate that Wildlife Works  is committed for the long term, not like some others  who just donate individual items, like our old broken water pump, and then leave.














The Mai Ndombe REDD+ Project in the DRC employs over 20 eco-guardians, many of whom are former poachers.
The Mai Ndombe REDD+ Project protects 300,000 hectares of critical bonobo and forest elephant habitat within the world’s second-largest intact rainforest and some of the most important wetlands on the planet, the Congo Basin.











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The Mai Ndombe project area is home to 50,000 forest community members dispersed across more than 28   villages.

The majority of the villages are home to people who identify as Bantu. Bantus are pastoralist migrants, who settled around Lake Mai Ndombe many generations ago. There is one village outside of the project area but in the project zone that is home to the Batwa, more widely known under the discriminatory name “pygmies.” The Batwa are the original Indigenous stewards of the forest.

Due to centuries of colonialism and exploitation, all of the community members within the project area and project zone have been disenfranchised from their economic and political empowerment and are some of the most marginalized communities in the world. They are looking for new strategies to meet their basic needs while still living in harmony with the forest that they have strong cultural and spiritual connections to.



For years, the landscape in the project area was mostly devoid of wildlife. But now, the forest and wildlife is coming back to life thanks to the REDD+ project.

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Mathieu “De la Forêt” Bolaa  is the  Head of Biodiversity for Wildlife Works in the DRC, and has personally witnessed  the  return of elephants to the area.

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With earned carbon revenue, communities are investing in building educational facilities, which were previously non-existent or insufficient in most villages across the project zone. A lack of education in the region has been directly correlated with increased deforestation and negative health outcomes.   In total, 32 schools are planned to be built throughout the lifetime of the project. Carbon revenue also  covers uniforms, school fees, teachers' salaries, and national exam fees.

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Lake Mai Ndombe is one of the most biologically unique lakes in the world. Unlike other large African lakes, dominant fish species have never been introduced, resulting in a habitat rich in endemic species. But over the past few decades, the supply of fish has dramatically dwindled due to unsustainable fishing practices. Community members have invested carbon revenue into sustainable fish ponds to strengthen    food security and eventually repopulate the lake. 

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Improved healthcare is one of the most important project activities that communities in the Mai Ndombe REDD+  invest their carbon revenue into.    Maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in the world, and over ⅓ of children under 5 are malnourished and many are at high risk from malaria  and measles outbreaks.   A new hospital and rapid response mobile health clinics are revolutionizing access to quality health care.


Local Development Committees have been established as key structures for local governance within the project area. Project activities are selected in consultation with the local communities as well as other key stakeholders and officials from different levels of government.   

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With earned carbon revenue from forest protection, communities have    invested in a portable drilling rig to revolutionize access to clean water. 

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Cassava is a critical food staple for millions of people across the DRC, but its productivity is threatened by various   pests   and    diseases. 

Locally-hired employees conduct demonstration gardens, agroforestry and conservation farming training to increase access to information for local community members so that they can improve their crop yields in sustainable ways.


° Pan paniscus 


Bonobos are 98.7% related to humans, making them one of our closest relatives. They are only found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and our project site in Mai Ndombe is an important refuge for this endangered species. The main threats to bonobos are habitat loss and the illegal wildlife trade markets. Bonobos are hunted for their meat or to be sold as pets. Due to disturbance from the previous logging company, there were only 20-30 bonobos when we first started our project. Today, there is evidence that hundreds of bonobos use this habitat. This is significant to the survival of the species as a whole.

° Loxodonta cyclotis 


Forest elephants are the smaller and more reclusive cousin of the larger Savannah elephant. It was only in 2021 that forest elephants were declared a separate species. As mega-gardeners of the jungles, Forest elephants are some of our best warriors in the fight against climate change. By eating smaller plants, elephants reduce competition for soil nutrients and light, allowing larger trees to flourish and capture even more CO2 out of the atmosphere. Scientists hypothesize that the presence of a mega-herbivore is why the Congo Basin sequesters double the amount of carbon than the Amazon rainforest, even though it is only half the size. The main threats to forest elephants are climate change, habitat loss, poaching for ivory, and retaliatory killings from human-elephant conflict. Prior to Wildlife Works’ conservation project, forest elephants hadn’t been seen in the area in decades. Today, the local population has recovered and the project area now supports close to a 100 forest elephants.

° Smutsia gigantea


Pangolins, the scaly, long-nosed anteaters of the tropics, are some of the most unique mammals in the world. By feeding on termites, they help to protect trees and maintain ecological balance. Unfortunately, they are also the most trafficked animal in the world, as their scales are used for traditional East-Asian medicines.

° Hippopotamus amphibius


After elephants and rhinos, hippos are the third largest land mammal on our planet; a male hippo can weigh as much as three compact cars. Hippos can be extremely territorial and aggressive, and on average, kill 500 people per year in Africa (about twice the number of people killed by lions). Despite their impressive stature and aggressive predisposition, their populations are decreasing across Sub-Saharan Africa, most rapidly in the DRC. The main threats to hippos are habitat loss and hunting for their meat and teeth. Wildlife Works, in partnership with local communities, is creating strategies for human-wildlife coexistence.



Camera trap footage of bonobos (pan paniscus) at a watering hole at the Mai Ndombe REDD+ project
Camera trap footage of forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) at the Mai Ndombe REDD+ project in the DRC

​The forest - spanning 740,000 acres - is primarily (46%) semi-deciduous forest and (42%) swamp forest.

The forest is home to the high-value Mwenge hardwood (Millettia laurentii), which has historically attracted several industrial logging companies. The forest is rich in biodiversity, with many plant species still undescribed to science. Our biodiversity team is still regularly discovering new plant and fungi species. Even though the Congo basin is half the size of the Amazon rainforest, it sequesters double the amount of carbon. This is thought to be because of the presence of large herbivores such as forest elephants, who reduce competition for larger trees that sequester more carbon.



  • The Mai Ndombe REDD+ project area comprises two forest concessions along the western shore of Lake Mai Ndombe, totaling over 250,000 ha of rainforest that were actively being logged in the early 2000s. In 2008, following a governmental revision of the DRC National Forest Code, 91 of 156 logging contracts were suspended in an effort to address corruption in the sector. Minimum legal and environmental standards were not being met, which resulted in severe environmental damage. Furthermore, communities in these areas were largely ignored by the logging companies, and received little or no economic benefit. 

    Two timber concessions extending along the western shore of Lake Mai Ndombe, were among those suspended for review. This suspension was never a permanent cancellation and the subsequent moratorium was only on new logging concessions.  

    So while the concessions were suspended in February 2010, Ecosystem Restoration Associates (ERA), a Canadian forest restoration company, took the opportunity to submit a formal request to the DRC government to conserve these concessions. The submission proposed something radical for the DRC: using carbon revenues to promote environmental conservation and sustainable development, thereby protecting the area from destructive logging practices, legal and illegal. . This submission was granted under an exception in the new Forest Code that allowed suspended concessions to be awarded without competitive bidding by the logging sector, if the award was of high environmental and community benefit.

    ERA then reached out to Wildlife Works to help them design a REDD+ project and we entered a joint venture with ERA to do so. The joint venture was in place until 2014 when Wildlife Works bought out ERA and became the sole operator of the project. 


    Other suspended forestry concessions were subsequently re-awarded to logging companies. This demonstrates that the forestry concessions that now compose the Mai Ndombe REDD+ project also would’ve been eventually logged.   

  • Wildlife Works does not restrict activities of the communities. Our conservation strategy is founded on holistically partnering with the local communities who choose to protect their surrounding forest by using carbon revenues to fund their self-determined social and economic development plans. Development projects take time to implement and reach all of the communities in the entire project area and zone, especially during the funding gap between project start date and issuance and purchase of credits. Completely stopping deforestation is an unrealistic goal when people live within and around a forest. Decreasing the rate of deforestation in the project area is the expected goal. The project has proven to reduce deforestation against its validated baseline every year since the start of the project because community development investments have helped to curb the communities’ reliance on extraction. Independent, third-party verification audits for this performance period confirm these results. Prior to Wildlife Works’ conservation project, forest elephants hadn’t been seen in the area in decades. Today, the local population has recovered and the project area now supports close to a 100 forest elephants. 

  • Avoiding deforestation under REDD+ projects involves protecting intact forests that are under threat, but that have not yet been cleared. To solve the problem of measuring what would have happened without the project, a reference area must be established to determine the rate that similar areas were deforested. For REDD+ projects, the reference area never overlaps with the project area. This is because the project area, by its very definition, consists of remaining intact forest to be conserved.


    For cases of planned deforestation (e.g. logging concessions) the most accurate reference area is likely to be another logging concession operated by the same company in the same general area. 


    The reference area selected for the Mai Ndombe REDD+ Project was required to meet the following strict criteria:


    1. It had to be the most recent logging concession, operated by the same logging company that had already operated in the area. Logging companies are not all created equally: those that historically over-harvest and allow others to clear forest within their concession are considered most likely to do so again.

    2. It had to contain the same amount of forest at the beginning of the historical reference period as the project area concession did at the start of the REDD+project. This helps ensure that the reference area represents the same size of forest as the project area. 

    3. It had to exhibit similar characteristics in terms of commercial tree species composition, landscape topography, access to markets etc. All of these criteria were thoroughly reviewed by the auditor and shown to meet the required level of scientific scrutiny.


    The reference area, approximately 600 km southwest of the project area, was selected because it experienced planned commercial harvest similar to what would have occurred in the project accounting area in the baseline scenario. In particular, the logging company SOFORMA was granted a logging concession with boundaries identical to those of the reference area, harvested the merchantable trees, and enabled a cascade of degradation (carried out by secondary agents of deforestation) that led to nearly complete deforestation of the reference area. It should be noted that SOFORMA stands for “La Société Forestière du Mayombe”, and the company was originally formed for the express purpose of logging the Mayombe forest (Thompson and Adloff, 1960). In addition to the planned commercial harvest, the reference area is similar to the project area with respect to ecosystem type, landscape configuration (elevation, slope, etc.), and the socio-economic conditions of local communities. Finally, the reference area is located in the DRC, so the commercial harvest and subsequent logging are subject to the same laws and enforcement as the project area. 

  • The baseline represents the counterfactual scenario of what would have happened in the absence of the project. Wildlife Works endeavors to reduce projected deforestation based on a scientifically determined and independently audited baseline.

    Our project baseline initially reflected the actual annual emissions that occurred in the reference area concession over a 30-year period, which  is non-linear: starting slowly when legal logging began, and then accelerating when illegal logging followed and further accelerating as communities cleared the remnant forests after logging was finished in a process now well-known as the “cascade of deforestation.”

    The Mai Ndombe project switched to an allocated baseline initially based on the World Bank ER Program for 2021-2023 and then to the National REDD+ program after 2023. Wildlife Works was heavily involved in the design of both of these programs.  The result in a different baseline to our originally audited and validated project baseline reflects the difference between the two philosophical approaches to allocating baselines, and in no way reflects the scientific accuracy in the original baseline. 

    That difference can be summarized as such: project baselines reflect specific local risks to the project forests, based on actual historical deforestation in a nearby reference area. Jurisdictional baselines use an average of historical deforestation across the entire jurisdiction to calculate the jurisdictional baseline.Then a portion of that baseline is allocated to projects nested within the jurisdictional program. Mai Ndombe used a risk-based allocation model. Learn more about risk-based allocation in our DRC Best Practices Guide

    Both approaches use remote sensing. Remote sensing is usually more accurate at the project scale than at larger jurisdictional scale because at the project scale every pixel of forest loss can be identified and manually verified. Larger jurisdictional programs often have to use sampling techniques because it is too expensive and time intensive to assess every pixel in the entire jurisdiction.

    Wildlife Works monitors, measures, and reports deforestation everywhere it occurs at the Landsat pixel level (30m x 30m) and deducts any emissions associated with that deforestation from our project performance. The project has been independently verified to have achieved substantial reductions in deforestation against its applicable baseline.

  • The government of the DRC holds the concessions to the forest. The local communities have customary usage rights to the forest. Wildlife Works has worked with the communities to map traditional community territories. 

  • The Mai Ndombe REDD+ Project spans 28 villages of various sizes. When the project was being designed 11 years ago, Wildlife Works/ERA Congo obtained written permission from each village, in line with the government’s requirements of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC).

    Wildlife Works’ REDD+ projects follow the Cancun Safeguards for Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC), a process protected by international human rights standards that states, ‘all peoples have the right to self-determination’ and ‘all peoples have the right to freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.’

    Through the FPIC process, communities co-created and signed a document known as the Cahiers de Charge, which states the agreed-upon activities that the project will fund.  By signing this document, community members gave their clear consent to develop a REDD+ project in their customary lands. Wildlife Works employees  have close communications with community leaders and democratically elected community representatives during the implementation of the project and its activities. This process enables community members to contribute to project design, air grievances, and give or withhold their consent at any point .

    There are over 50,000 community members within the project zone, so it should be expected that each village and each individual will have varying degrees of knowledge and direct interaction with the project. Due to limited funding at the start of the project, Wildlife Works was only able to start project activities one village at a time. As project funding grew with credit sales, more villages were able to fund their investment plans. At the end of 2023, all the villages’ Cahiers de Charge have now been fulfilled and the villages’ democratically elected “local carbon committees” are developing plans for future funding. Meanwhile, we have a dedicated and ongoing effort to engage with all community members.. As carbon sales increase, communities will be able to fund more of their own development goals. Stay updated on the latest impacts on the Mai Ndombe project page, signing up for our newsletters and following our social channels

  • While the length of the FPIC process can vary due to the nuances of the local culture and government, the initial phases of informing communities about the potential projects take no less than 3 months, and can take up to one year and sometimes more. In the case of Mai Ndombe, the FPIC process took over one year. We believe FPIC is a continuous process, and does not end once communities give their consent for the start of a project. Read more about our continuous, fluid FPIC process here

    Wildlife Works representatives are recognized experts in the FPIC process and co-authored the DRC Best Practices Guide for REDD+ which includes extensive information on the legal and culturally required FPIC process.

For more information about our project development approach, visit Our Process



In Kenya, the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project protects 500,000 hectares of forest.

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In the Amazon Ecoregion of Colombia, we have 3 projects in development protecting 750,000 hectares of forest.

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Nearly 300,000 hectares of rainforest along the west side of Lake Mai Ndombe in western DRC was zoned for commercial timber extraction that is highly valued by logging companies. The forest is home to incredible biodiversity and includes some of the most important carbon-rich wetlands in the world. The logging companies largely ignored the rights and health of the 50,000 community members. It brought little or no economic benefit to the local people and drove already threatened wildlife populations down.

In 2008, following a governmental revision of the DRC National Forest Code, 91 of 156 logging contracts were suspended in an effort to address corruption in the sector.


Two of these temporarily suspended timber concessions  encompassed the rainforest along the western shore of Lake Mai Ndombe. In February 2010, a formal request was made to the DRC government to cease the destructive logging practices and instead use carbon revenues to promote environmental conservation and sustainable development. In 2011, the two concession contracts were successfully reassigned to ERA Congo   (the founding project developer)     via a Forest Conservation Contract. Today, ERA Congo is a fully owned and operated subsidiary of Wildlife Works  managing the Mai Ndombe project under the same agreements with the DRC government.


The communities agreed to partner with Wildlife Works to co-create    strategies for improved food security, access to healthcare and education, while maintaining their centuries-long tradition of living in harmony with the forest.   Learn more about    the impacts, community, wildlife, and forest of this project in the sections below.   For detailed information on the verification, third-party validation, and historic issuances of this project, see the useful links section     or explore the Frequently Asked Questions section.

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