Ebola Empties Villages, Bushmeat Empties Forests.

Bushmeat observations in the forest3
Just dead-Still warm.

Ebola is a disease, Bushmeat is commerce, but both remain uncontrolled for similar reasons: absence – on the ground – of adequate trained, committed individuals. Why the unwillingness to marshal and train human experts – on the ground – to bring the plagues under control?

For the Ebola plague,  Doctors Without Borders was the first group on the ground, the month the epidemic was declared in 2014.  In 2015  they still plead for Biological-Disaster Response Teams. “Thank you for the new clinics, but the clinics need staff.”  The number infected is over 24,000 and rising again in early 2015. Villages will continue to empty.

Bushmeat observations in the forest4
Small scale hunting like this – a single primate – is rarer as it becomes necessary to go farther and farther from the village to hunt successfully.

For the bushmeat plague, is it really emptying forests? Yes:
1. When we set out to explore the Lomami we explored over 40,000 km2 of forest; the whole outer half of it was empty and bushmeat hunters were coming towards the remaining core forest from all angles in order to stock the city bushmeat markets .
2. After Sankuru Reserve was created in November 2007, our inventories and those of WCS showed that more than 2/3 of the forest was essentially empty at the time of gazettement: no more bonobos, no more elephants, the big duikers gone, the primates few.
3. Between the first and second inventory of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve (1995 and 2006) between 40% and 60% of all species inventoried were lost; that includes elephants, chimpanzees, okapi, and duikers.  That happened inside a protected area.

Hunters are the beginning of the chain
A hunting party, Bangengele,Maniema.

How do you stop it? The Convention on Biological Diversity Liaison Group on Bushmeat drafted recommendations in 2009 that were revised and adopted in 2012. The recommendations were sensitive to local peoples and stated the real needs on the ground:
“increase capacity to monitor levels of bushmeat harvest…;”
“establish mechanisms for..participation of indigenous and local communities..to ensure inclusion of their views and the impacts of unsustainable bushmeat use on their livelihoods…;”
“develop culturally acceptable and economically feasible alternative food and income sources…;”
“implement capacity-building and public awareness-raising activities…”

AND there was an important component on LAW ENFORCEMENT:
“Strengthen investigative capacity, enhance control, inspection and arresting procedures and methods…;”
“Improve knowledge and capacity of prosecutors and judges to prosecute and sentence illegal bushmeat harvest and trade cases, ensure that sentences are served in full and publicize arrests, prosecutions and sentences;”
“Enhance cooperation and coordination among wildlife trade enforcement officers and officials, prosecutors and judges and other relevant personnel…”
“Assure that citizens are aware of national, regional and local laws.”

Bushmeat observations in the forest6
A dugout load of bushmeat secured with a pole to the Lomami River’s shore..

Is it with cynical lack of concern or with total naivety that FAO, citing the above CBD liaison group on Bushmeat announced this in 2011:
“FAO prepared a regional GEF project for Gabon, the Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic to implement/test a new approach to bushmeat: the legal, sustainable use of selected non-threatened species through participatory wildlife management.”
No law enforcement, no development of alternatives, no on-the-ground monitoring….
Where has the money (more than 4 million dollars) gone?

Observations on the road2
A bicycle load of bushmeat.

An obvious non-starter :  how does a hunter target non-threatened species and leave all the others in peace. What does that mean on the ground? A hunter places 500 snares along snare lines in the forest.   Are his traps able to capture blue duiker, but not water chevrotain? The cable or nylon does not care.

And how do you create participatory wildlife management when there is almost no wildlife left to manage?

cables, nylons and shotgun shells
cables, nylons and shells to be “reloaded” with shot.

We knew one of several short-term FAO research projects associated with this GEF. The researcher used camera traps to asses animals in the forest of a pilot village more than 100 km east of Kisangani. The cameras showed an impoverished, remnant fauna. Already there were village-level problems of who had rights to what part of the forest for hunting. Not promising.

more than the usual load
A back load of bushmeat.

To encourage hunting for only non-threatened species, hunters of protected species (elephants, bonobos, chimps, giant pangolins….) must be arrested, prosecuted and punished.  So says the CBD recommendations above.  As it stands now, this process usually does not get beyond arrest. After all, killing a bonobo or elephant is not as important as, for instance, stealing a cell phone, or sleeping with someone else’s wife, or making off with your neighbor’s goat. That bonobo or elephant did not belong to anyone else…what’s the problem?

hunting camp
Hunting camp with drying rack.

The CBD recommendations have been used to justify work, not only by FAO, but also by some universities.
A regional database for bushmeat research in Central and West Africa has been assembled. This certainly has academic merit, but it is unlikely  to reduce bushmeat hunting in any forest being hunted to near-empty.  The authors’ statement that “Such information could assist decision-makers to develop evidence-based conservation strategies” fails to understand the vast separation between strategy (offices) and application (ground). The authors statement that they are complying with the CBD’s request for monitoring does not recognize that monitoring should lead to appropriate action to protect forests when they are being depleted. People (local, regional and ex-pat) are needed on the ground with the mission to make that happen.

ready for night hunting
Ready for night hunting, near Bili Uere, Orientale.

Even more distant from any kind of ground reality was a modeling exercise for sustainable hunting and biodiversity protection that purported to “provide information for management.”

As a result of a lot of “forward-backward-stepwise” and “fuzzy” logic (their own terms) the authors proposed areas of potential sustainable hunting that in the eastern DR Congo includes two national parks and two reserves. There was no mention of protected areas in the paper. As mammals were discussed only at the taxonomic level of Order there was no ability to distinguish between the okapi and the bay duiker.

The FAO GEF was a five-year initiative approved in 2011. It must now be at its end. I think that governments, communities, conservationists and all potential actors in the field (local, regional, expat) need to know the results and hear the proposed follow-up.

putrified duiker in trap
When a snare line is not checked frequently enough: rot and army ants.

Mbuti Exodus: from Lualaba Barge to Lomami Forest Canopy.

Kisangani to Kindu (13 February– 23 February 2015): The Mbuti travelled for more than a week up the Lualaba River (upper Congo).

Passing boats on the Lualaba
After taking a bus overland to Ubundu, the Mbuti moved upriver for more than a week on a Congo River barge.

Mbuti exodus to Lomami
Their exodus from the Ituri included landcruiser, bus, barge, motorbike and finally a long hike.

They logged over 1000 km.

Relaxing in the lifeboat
On the Lualaba, from the “life-dugout” they watched the River go by….

Fellow travellers on the River
….with its fellow travelers…

Captain's bridge
…and its own peoples as entertwined with the river as the Mbuti are with the forest.

Arrived in Kindu, spirits were high at our TL2 guesthouse.

Cooking with vigor in Kindu
Mateso continued his role as cook, here fanning the flames of the charcoal babula.

Dino (who has accompanied the Mbuti from the Ituri) and Nobirabo (who remains in the Ituri) organized phone calls with wives and loved ones before leaving Kindu for Katopa camp. This was the first time on the telephone.

Uleli talking to wife IN KINDU
Ueli speaks to his wife.

Mbeya was informed that his wife gave birth … he is father to a son.

Mbeya new father_Kindu celebration
A special celebration for the new father.

Aside: Unfortunately a month later out in camp Mbeya is diagnosed with tertiary syphilis. He is treated, but his wife must be treated and the new baby checked.

Mbeya in front of cabin
Mbeya at camp Katopa after receiving one in the series of shots.

But before that –
From Kindu to Katopa camp (26 February to 28 February 2015): the Ituri team must cross the Bangengele villages all the way to the last one, Chombe Kilima.

Ueli and Mateso on motorbike
Three to a motorbike.

All hands to push motorbikes around fallen tree
Pushing – pulling the motorbike around a fallen tree.

They were welcomed by the Bangengele and the village of Chombe Kilima.

AA_Chef groupement Tshambi wishing luck
The chief wishes them well.

Trying Lomata before heading off
They are given the local manioc paste – lomata – to give them strength for the walk.

Then they must cross forest and savanna, 37 km, through the park to our base camp Katopa on the other side of the Lomami River. Dino accompanied them on this, the last leg of the trip to Katopa camp; then Dino returned to Kisangani.

Dino leads team through Braza savanna
Dino leads across the savanna under a punishing sun.

Forest work got underway only slowly until the botanical team gathered (next post). Unfortunately, camp Katopa is right next to the village of Katopa. In the village many of the Mamas distill Kindingi, a local brew, made from corn and manioc. The Mbuti had some money and no other plans than a good time now. There were no wives or family to direct the good time. Unfortunately their good time kept the whole camp awake.

Sleeping it off inside

My first night in camp, Mateso carried on with a drunken dialogue through the hyrax night calls and the blue monkey’s morning calls…most of the rest of the Ituri team slept it off. But several nights later, after the botanical team was present in full force and after receiving their first pay, the drunk was so bad NO ONE slept and in the morning the Ituri team’s part of the camp was gutted.

Too much Kindingi

Tired, discouraged the botanical team marched off with all the Mbuti, except for Mbeya who was receiving penicillin at Katopa.

From Katopa camp to forest camps (March, April, May): The botanists were set for a first eight-day spell of plot inventory where the Mbuti would dry out with plenty of time in the forest canopy.

Cimbing into Lomami canopy 5
A zoom-in on Emula high in the canopy.

Throwing down the specimen
Paul throwing leaves down to the botanists below.

The work was enthusiastic – impeccable—and spirits as tall as the trees that were climbed.

The botanical team of university students is lead by Professor Ewango. Both University students and Ituri Mbuti are learning the trees of the Lomami.

Prof's specs _ functional again
Prof Ewango examining leaves. The student, Modestine, taking notes.

Ewango insists on having leaf evidence for any tree that cannot be confidently identified. This is where the Mbuti are irreplaceable. We are identifying mainly plants that have neither flowers nor fruits; it is absolutely essential to have the leaves no matter how high the tree is.

Climbiing into Lomami canopy 2
Heading up….

Paul tying on liana
Using a liane to rope in a distant tree on high.

But that is not their only contribution. Where ingenuity is needed in the face of minimum outside inputs – they are the engineers.

Corneille needs reading glasses to read the calipers. Climbing to get a diameter above the buttresses he leaned into a tree and broke his glasses.

Prof Ewango climbs_takes two to measure
Prof Ewango climbing up to help Sumaili take a diameter reading.

Repair of Prof’s specs happened right there on the forest floor.

fixing prof's specs
Soumaili found some gluey substance left on the commercial packaging of one of our meter tapes.

Spectacles drying in the sun
After patching, he set the spectacles to dry in a sun patch on the forest floor.

We are still learning how to do the vegetation inventory efficiently. A complex team is essential. Obviously we must have botanist –taxonomists-ecologists (see next post), but equally essential are the Congolese forest experts and climbers. For now at least our best bet is the Ituri team as the more local pygmies are few and distant.

Lesson learned: Perhaps it was a mistake to bring individual Mbuti and not whole families; so, in early June the Mbuti will return to the Ituri and those that come back to the Lomami in September will come with their families.

But right now – just out from eight days at Braza camp – a hectare of forest inventoried – all is positive with the botanical initiative. Perhaps there was a bit of Kindingi tonight…but it has been turned to music: drumming, singing, and a light rain on the mogobo roof of the baraza.
Taking a rest in the Lomami canopy
Paul takes a rest high in the Lomami Forest Canopy.

Bonobo Meat at Kindu Market Rate

Bafundo hunter and bonobo
The hunter, the bonobo, and the shotgun that killed her.

We thought we were making progress in 2009. Every village had poster pictures of bonobos and other completely protected species. “Not to shoot!” Certainly the killing would go down.

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Plants are Last — in the Forests of the Ituri and the Lomami.

Asani marking tree in botqnical plots
ASANI, on right, marking a tree for measurement above the buttresses on our Ituri plots, circa 1990.

We had been in the Ituri Forest for ten years. First we put radio collars on okapi, then on forest antelope. We did forest-wide large mammal inventories, and a study of leopard. It was somewhere after all of that mammal work, that we decided we could do plants. Plants always come last.

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