D.R. Congo’s Giant Pangolins : Two Tons of Scales Seized

2015 smoked pangolin meat
Tip of giant Pangolin tail smoked for sale. The scales were removed and sold separately to an Asian market.

The market for pangolin scales is exploding in D.R. Congo. Jules (not real name) called our attention to it in 2016. He is our crime sleuth around the northern Lomami buffer zone. In the town of Ubundu, Sept. 2016, he took a picture of a collection of scales drying in the sun – perhaps one giant pangolin. He was told rice buyers also bought pangolin scales. Jules heard the same when he was in Lowa later that year.

pangolin scales in Ubundu sept 2016
Pangolin scales drying in the sun in Ubundu.

Pangolins are a completely protected species in D.R.Congo. No hunting allowed. In January of 2017 while explaining this to his “informant” in the village of Liekelesole, the informant told Jules that he knew a hunter who dried pangolin scales to sell. He took Jules into his courtyard where the scales were spread on the ground.

Village of Liekelesole
A photo of Liekelesole taken by our outreach team in 2012.

Was it possible to follow up the supply chain? Who was the hunter’s buyer? Jules left his informant in Liekelesole on the pangolin scale trail.

How to hunt a giant pangolin? Rarely are they caught in snares. Too big, too strong. They rip themselves free. The most certain is to go after them with dogs. Apparently they have a very particular odor; hunters say they are accompanied by numerous flies. A dog can locate them in a burrow and then the hunter digs them out. Or if dogs surge on them in the forest pangolins curl into a ball like a giant cowry waiting to be collected. A machete blow to their head ends the hunt.

hunting camp with 2 dogs
A hunting camp with a dog at the feet of each of the men.

village hunting dog
Village hunting dog. Dogs are in all villages around the Lomami.

The informant from Liekelesole sent a message to Jules when the hunter gathered pangolin scales from his neighbors. He took them and his own north to Opala in February. An informant in Opala found out where the hunter would be in Kisangani. In March, in Kisangani another contact of Jules befriended the hunter pretending that he too had pangolin scales to sell.

The hunter said his previous buyer, a Maman Amanita, was no longer taking pangolin scales because her stock had been seized by the DGDA (customs officials).

mama Amanita in December
Maman Amanita

Jules’s contact found Maman Amanita on May 25th. He approached her; this is what she told him:

In January she had filled over 30 cargo sacks with Pangolin scales — each sack weighed about 70kg. They were all seized by the DGDA. The DGDA said it would make a deal: it took 16 sacks and left her with 14 and a half, but, they told her that if she talked law would come for her. She was furious, she got a lawyer. DGDA paid her a piddling sum and said that was all she would get, any more trouble and she would be arrested and thrown in jail because any shipment of pangolin scales is illegal.

DGDA's seizure report in February
The DGDA’s seizure report of 30.5 sacks of pangolin scales.

It was in July that Jules’s informant at the airport reported pangolin scales waiting to be shipped out on a transport plane: 16 sacks. Jules mobilized. He had the shipping slip. DGDA was the conveyor and paid $2250 to move their 1125 kg (over 1 ton). The correct legal procedure would have been to hand the scales over to the CITES authority (ICCN) right there in the city of Kisangani and at the time of seizure – 4 months earlier.

July 2017 pangolin scales in Kisangani
16 sacks of pangolin scales in July 2017 at an airport warehouse in Kisangani. They are to be shipped by DGDA (customs agency)to Kinshasa.

Since September 2016, all international commerce in Pangolin scales is forbidden by CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Despite this, the trade continues to increase.

Jules realized that the subterfuge reached high into the DGDA. He had to protect his own network of informants. Thus, as DGDA had already paid for the transport, ICCN in Kinshasa could make the arrest. He sent them photos of the sacks and the bill of lading.

Scales in Kinshasa in July
The scales arrive at the Kinshasa airport in Njili.

In Kinshasa ICCN took the case to the public prosecutor as DGDA tried to refuse the confiscation. They said that they had arrested the scales, it was their job to arrest illegal cargo.

The prosecutor did not hesitate: Where was the person arrested? He should be sent directly to Kinshasa for questioning, The sub-director of DGDA in Kisangani should also appear. And where is the official report of the seizure?
The official report was produced (see above). It said there were 30.5 sacks in all. Where were the rest?

photo mama Amanita and lawyer
Maman Aminita and lawyer at warehouse.

The DGDA in Kinshasa instructed the DGDA in Kisangani to send the remaining sacks! Poor mama Amanita. She showed up at the warehouse with a lawyer. These were HER pangolin scales; no one was going to take them!! DGDA had said she could have them.
Jules told the local ICCN authorities to call Kisangani’s Public Prosecutor. As in Kinshasa the prosecutor wanted to see not only the documents but also the original owner. Amanita and the lawyer both fled.

November examining pangolin scales
DGDA and ICCN examine the scales from the remaining 14.5 sacks in Kinsangani before shipment. The sub-director is second from right wearing a badge around his neck. The other DGDA staff is on the far left in blue shirt.

Now all the Pangolin scales – over two tons (between 300 and 450 animals) – are with ICCN in Kinshasa. These scales were confiscated in February long after the CITES ban on commercial shipment. We are waiting to hear the results of the prosecution – will heads role? And the fate of the scales – will they be publicly burned? We hope so.

Pangolin scales being taken by ICCN for shipment to Kin
ICCN transported the remaining 14.5 sacks for shipment to Kinshasa.

History and Maimai west of the Lomami

Children balanga west with Salumu
Children 16 and under are half the population of Balanga West; but elders, though rare, define the community. (Here Leon with Balanga West telephone-admirers)

A Balanga genealogy sounds like a litany from Old Testament Genesis or First Chronicles:

The first ancestor of the village of Kandolo was Likulufe. Likulufe begat a first son Kandolo who begat Bokendi ; Bokendi begat Mohomo ; Mohomo begat Kefota, Kefota begat Lobanda Bosongo (Kandolo2), Lobanda Bosongo begat the present chief of Kembe, Adolphine Lobanda.

Yalombe 2011 with chef Kandolo
Kandola2 or Lobanda Bosongo, then chief of Kembe, when he came to listen to our community meeting in Yalombe in 2011.

As in the Old Testament a people are defined by their genealogy.
In Genesis 10 the generations are laid out that followed Noah: “These are the descendants of Japheth in their lands, with their own language, by their families, in their nations.”
And so it is among the Kembe whose chief’s village was Kandolo. They have their own language, a dialect different from the other ethnicities of Balanga West and different from those of Balanga East.

Child of hunters_Balanga West
A Kembe boy proudly carries back the blue monkey from a hunt with his big brother.

And they have their “lands”. The Kembe clan moved from one village site to another through their forests of Balanga West. Their past village sites or “tongos” : Kufa, Topotola, Lusinangombe, Kakoakakoko, Mingazi, Wenjwa, Hulangenda, Wanga and Kandolo. Kandolo means “sweet potato vines” and so you will know the “tongo”.

Vansina's Map of amount:quality of Social Science information for Central Africa
This map by the historian and anthropologist Jan Vansina1shows the four central African gaps in ethnographic information. TL2 is one of them. There is NO written ethnographic record for the area.

The elders know a much longer genealogy for Kembe than only that of the Kandolo village. It goes back to Loboto Kembe who first settled in what we now call Balanga West. Loboto’s ancestors lived in the northwest, they came up the Lomami River. When?? We can only count generations. Perhaps two hundred years ago?

Now the old chief of Kandolo, Lobanda Bosongo, and his wife Nyota Belunga are both dead. This is how it happened:

Vieux Kandolo mid 2017
femme de Kandolo mid 2017
Old Kandolo2 and his wife weeks before they died.

On Sept 10, 2017, old Kandolo 2, asked the child who brought his food.
“My wife, is she alright? Is she still with us?”
“No,” the child answered. “She died this morning.”
Old Kandolo began to mourn. In less than 24 hours he, too, was dead.

Old Kandolo had been a powerful man, but unusual for a chief, he had only one wife. As he lost strength he chose his youngest daughter (also unusual), Adolphine, to succeed him.

Chief of Kembe, daugher vieux Kandolo
Adolphine, the current Chief of the Kembe.

Kandolo and his wife left another powerful person, Liboke, the keeper of tradition for the Kembe people. Liboke is Kandolo’s grandson by an older son. He is a respected man among the adjacent ethnicities, as well: among the Balanga, the Ngombe and the associated Pygmies.

Liboke at his home
Liboke, foreground, is the keeper of tradition. A feared man, a man who manages magic and spells.

I remember them, vieux Kandolo and his wife, when we walked through Balanaga West in 2014. They were pleased to have our visit. Nyota was weeding a garden by the house. She stood, bent over, and felt her way with a stick towards us. How many years of experience with crops and their weeds to be able to work in her garden while essentially blind? Her husband too, had become very weak. He could not rise, but was cordial and welcoming, a model for any chief in a dynastic tradition.

Liste of armes returned_july 2016
Old Kandolo handed his gun over to the government in July 2016 before his death in September 2017.

Old Kandolo also kept an army rifle. The rifle certainly served in the fearsome MaiMai uprising out of Balanga West at the end of the 20th century. At that time Liboke (pictured above) was a principal MaiMai leader for the entire region. That uprising helped push the Rwandans out of DR Congo.

Gathered but still defiant
The Balanga West youth think of themselves as hunters and warriors. They were defiant, here in Bafundo, even when offering peace in July 2016.

Old Kandolo’s military rifle probably served again in early 2016 during Colonel Thom’s uprising. Thoms incited the men with the toxic warning that the PARK was coming to steal Balanga and Kembe forests and to forbid all hunting. We will never know how many boys and young men died in that recent uprising. We know the military buried one of their own near where he fell. Balanga boys were also seen to fall, but their bodies retrieved by their families.

Mungbere's military april
Military during their march to counter the uprising in Balanga West of early 2016.

But after that rebellion the Kembe, Balanga,Ngombe and Pygmy groups of Balanga West turned against Thoms: “Enough”; 136 men and boys marched to Bafundo in Balanga East to pledge their allegiance to the Congolese government and turn in their military arms. That was in July 2016.

The palabres at remise
Discussions in Bafundo before the military arms are handed over. Liboke on far left of elite Balanga West delegation.

Handing in of weapons
The rifles handed over in Bafundo, July 2016.

Was it the old people who prevailed? The youth are many fewer than the children, but still far more abundant than the elders. And the youth are mainly uneducated. Thoms, himself, can neither read nor write. This intellectual distance adds to the geographical distance isolating the peoples of Balanga West.

Liboke at remise of armes with Reddi
Liboke (left) and Thoms brother,Reddi, at the handing over of weapons.

Liboke remains peaceful on his land, an example to others. But now, only a year after seeking peace, Reddi has joined Thoms. They have reformed an outlaw band, and headed to the northeast, to the Mituku, also park buffer zone.

Dancing when weapons returned
Who, we wonder, among these men and boys who danced at the handing over of weapons, have now joined Thoms and Reddi for more elephant killing and banditry.

Now in Balanga West and amongst the Kembe we have built a permanent camp and developed relations with the chiefs. Adolphine held a month long mourning for her mother and father. It had just ended when I came over to Balanga West in October.

Crossing from Balanga east to Balanga west_october 17
We cross the Lomami from the Park (east) to Balanga West. In front of me is Olivier in charge of our community efforts in Balanga West.

The requests from Balanga West are small and reasonable:

Request: Allow us, of Balanga West to cross the park with bushmeat we hunt outside the park.
Response: Our TL2 project put in a “jeton” or token system that makes that possible.

Jeton system Balanga west
All bushmeat loads are detailed on a slip that is shown on the other side of the park.

Request: Build a permanent shelter at the 23 km halfway point across the park where our people carrying loads across can spend the night.
Response: We have built the shelter. Twice I have slept there.

Shelter at Bemanje on a rainy night
Our shelter at Bemanje stream, in the park, halfway between Balanga East and Balanga West.

Request: Loan us seed rice to plant – since during the year of Thom’s war all the rice was lost in neglected or burned fields. We now live off bananas and manioc.
Response: We are distributing rice this month of November, the final month for rice planting.

playing house in Balanga West
Little girls in Balanga West play “house” each with her own kitchen fire.

And where is Thoms?…He and Reddi took a dozen AK47s that were never handed over and about as many men. Perhaps some of these men have criminal records like Thoms –? They have moved out of Balanga West, crossed the park and moved north to the Miktuku. They are still in the buffer zone; is their intention to hunt elephants? Thoms’ s story is not over yet.

1 Vansina, Jan. 1990. Paths in the Rainforests. Toward a History of Political Tradition in Equatorial Africa. The University of Wisconsin Press. Madison,Wis.

Delcommune: Colonial Champion of the Lomami

Delcommune with hippos he killed on Lomami
In 1889, Delcommune killed these hippos on the Lomami just south of the rapids we call Badinga and he called Lissambo. Early European travelers on the Lomami fed their troops by killing hippos and elephants. 

The Lomami’s first advocate was the 19th century businessman, Alexandre Delcommune. He was more than an entrepreneur – he was also explorer and eventually military officer in Leopold II’s Force Publique.

Delcommune in Katanga in 1892
Delcommune (1892) is in the center with his hand at his distinctive sash.

You may never have heard of him. I only learned of him by chance when a street vendor of “antiques” came to our house in Kinshasa hoping to sell a yellowed copy of “Twenty Years of African Life” by A. Delcommune.

Even during his own time, he did not have the popular appeal of HM Stanley. Stanley’s first great exploit was to discover the course of the Congo River. Delcommune was in Boma, one of a handful of Europeans, to welcome Stanley in 1877 when he and his beleaguered column stumbled out to the estuary on the Atlantic after three years of harrowing adventure. At the time Delcommune was an ambitious young entrepreneur. Most of his life he worked in the vanguard of Congolese Company for Commerce and Industry (CCCI).

Large village on Lomami's bank
Delcommune found large villages only on the northern Lomami and south of Bene Kamba. Then as now the area that became park was unpopulated (photo 2017).

Delcommune’s first exploration had an important business component. Did a railroad make sense in Congo? – where was it needed? – would it pay for itself? On this trip, in 1889, he was the first to establish that the Lomami was the same river the German explorer, Hermann Wissmann had discovered far south in what became Katanga. The supposition at that time: Wissmann’s river flowed north-west into the Lubefu, a tributary of the Sankuru.

Roi des Belges
Steamboat, King of the Belgians, of Delcommune’s first explorations 1888-1889.

Delcommune explored up the Lubefu and realized it was too small and shallow to come from Wissmann’s river. Delcommune’s small steamboat later entered Lomami from the north. He was the first European after George Grenfell to do so, and he navigated the river more than 300 Km further south than Grenfell had done a few years earlier. Delcommune’s Lomami was the same as Wissmann’s north-flowing river of Katanga.

Delcommune was not as meticulous a scientist as Grenfell. Their respective maps show it.

TL2 carte 001
Delcommune's map of his explorations
Delcommune’s map (second) gives a generalized idea of where he went. Grenfell’s map (top) gives a detailed and accurate rendition of the rivers’ courses, bends and islands.

But Delcommune was a persistent explorer. He debunked mythical lakes and discovered the upper reaches of the Congo river in the Luapula River. He was also important to tracing the River Lukuga as flowing out of Lake Tanganyika and into the River Congo.

Despite the importance of his discoveries, Alexandre Delcommune was not a self-promoter or perhaps he just lacked the journalistic flare at which Stanley excelled. Less than a year after showing up in Boma, Stanley published “Through the Dark Continent” , 2 volumes, nearly 1000 pages about his just-ended exploits.

Delcommune’s story about his own explorations came out almost thirty years after the fact, at the insistence of others, with the help of others and less than a year before he died.

Lomami tributary
Delcommune was not indifferent to the beauty of the Lomami, but the short florid descriptions of vegetation and sunsets that punctuate the text were probably not his own, but added by “assistant” writers.  (photo C.Schenck, 2017)

Nevertheless, he opened the Lomami to the possibility of Belgian trade. The first Europeans to follow in Delcommune’s footsteps,however, were murdered by the Arabs and so began the Belgo-Arab War. Pierret, Hodister, among others, came up the Lomami to open posts and negotiate trade. They were all killed, some near the Lomami, and others as they approached RibaRiba, now Lokandu, an Arab post on the Congo River.

In Delcommune’s mind the Lomami was a part of the obvious route south and west through the Congo Free State. It was the obvious way to avoid the rapids above Stanley Falls (Kisangani).

One of Lomami's many bends
It is the rocky shallows and many bends, like this one, that ultimately make the Lomami a poor river for transportation (photo C. Schenck, 2017).

Observations he made show how in many ways the mid-Lomami basin has remained much the same over the last hundred and thirty years:

–South of Opala (then Yanga) there was almost no habitation until reaching BeneKamba (250 km as the crow flies). This is still true today and allowed for the creation of the Lomami National Park.

— After Delcommune specifically asked in 1887 if there were Pygmies (nains) at Bene Kamba, his hosts disappeared along a path and came back with a pygmy. This corroborates our observations that there are some Pygmies associated with the Balanga and Mbole, but they are scarce compared to the density of Pygmies in the Ituri Forest, further east.

Despite the importance of his discoveries along the Lomami, perhaps his greatest contribution to the Congo Free State, and eventually the Belgian Congo was made before he had started any of his explorations up the Congo:

In 1884 after almost 10 years in Boma, where he had married the daughter of an important chief, his local influence allowed him to sign treaties with traditional kings, much to the discomfiture of England and Portugal. As a result Belgium gained rights at the mouth of the Congo River that were recognized that same year at the Conference of Berlin where the colonial map of the continent was carved into existence by European powers.

Decommune at age of 21 in 1876
Delcommune, here 21 years old, first came to Boma at the Congo River’s estuary on the atlantic, as a young man.

But this event was not what Delcommune wrote about when he published the account of his commercial, military and exploratory successes in the Congo. Rather, he wrote in detail, how he rebuffed King Leopold II in 1895 after returning to Belgium from his Katanga exploration. When the king asked Delcommune to return as Inspecteur de l’État to the Congo Free State, Delcommune said he could not because of the atrocities committed for the forced collection of wild rubber in the name of the King. He ended the book with a plea for better health care and better education in the Belgian Congo.

References:
Gochet Alexis-Marie. 1896. Soldats et missionnaires au Congo; de 1891 à 1894. Desclée de Brouwer & Cie. Gallica, France.
Delcommune, Alex. 1922. Vingt années de Vie africaine, récits de voyages, d’aventures et d’exploration au Congo Belge 1874-1893 Tome Premier et Tome Second. Vve Ferdinand Larcier, 26-28 rue des Minimes, Bruxelles

Eight Months in the Forest Canopy

To be exact: Eight months spent watching a single forked branch, 17 meters (56 feet) above the ground in the Congo’s Lomami National Park.

Base of an Uapaca
The aerial roots is usually all we see of an Uapaca tree. The slash confirmed its identification.

My name is Daniel Alempijevic, a graduate student from Kate Detwiler’s Primatology lab at Florida Atlantic University. I lead a collaborative camera trap study with the TL2 Project.

Uapaca_detection_zone
A forked Uapaca branch was faithfully observed by “Euvgenia Cam” for 8 mohths. The camera is named after its donor.

In the Lomami River Basin, a diverse group of primates scour the canopy in search of fruits, insects, and palatable leaves. Each species has unique feeding strategies and tolerances that allow co-existence with other species. Sometimes they form mixed-species groups. Observing the natural behavior of monkeys from the ground in dense, closed canopy forests is daunting, so we use arboreal camera traps.

As part of a camera trap survey designed to detect Inoko (Cercopithecus dryas) in TL2, one camera recorded animal encounters throughout the fruiting period of a Uapaca heudelotii tree.

Uapaca_fruit
Some of the Uapaca fruit within the camera trap’s detection zone.

Since the camera was setup (Dec 3,2016) through mid-April, primates were making consistent but infrequent visits to the tree, averaging less than two primate detections per week (n=1.75). Then, over an 8-week period between April and June the frequency of detections per week greatly increased (n=9), with 14 primate detections during one week in May.

The reason for this spike in detections is clear; this was when the Uapaca fruits were ripe and all monkeys converged on it. The number of videos showing primates collecting and eating fruit show the same trend as the primate detection frequency. After this period of increased foraging, the primate detections decrease (n=2.4) through the remaining 5 weeks. During the 8-month period, 6 of the 8 diurnal primate species known to occur in this part of the forest were recorded; the elusive and sub-canopy dwelling Inoko, along with the bonobo, however, never came to that forked branch.


The 6 species of primates detected by the camera trap. The colobus is the only one that is mainly a leaf eater. Here the independent clips have been spliced together. Note the hornbill at the end of the video; they too are important seed dispersers.

This video from the Uapaca branch revealed an important aspect of tropical ecology, the relationship between tree and frugivore. Tropical forests are rich in fruits of various sizes, colors, and palatability. This variation in fruit is matched by a diverse frugivorous community of birds and mammals. Carbohydrate-rich fruits contain seeds that can survive digestion unscathed and sprout in a new location after passing through the animal. This is a primary means of dispersal for tropical tree species. Fruits are a patchy resource, both in space and in time. Fruit density is highest during the dry season, having matured during the rains.

Primate density at a site is dependent largely on availability of food. Monkeys disperse over large areas when fruits are not readily available, converging where fruit density is highest. The distribution and density of fruiting trees starts with their dispersal. The patterns of animal movement, responsible for much of the dispersal, can thereby trace an early blueprint of forest composition.