Four-Legged Curiosity and Another Camera Trap Thief

curious young lesula
Is this Lesula curious?

After all, the camera trap is a novelty, although it strives to be too cryptic to notice.

elephant, close but not interested

Most often animals march right by, or continue unperturbed with the day’s business…

This is true of elephants,

of bonobos,

of leopards

A discrete camera will record who is there and what they are doing…

But, once noticed the camera trap elicits a response that can seem like


These bonobos are at least mildly spooked.


Perhaps it is the metallic taste or a residual human odor.

or Curiosity.

Is the leopard trying to elicit a reaction?

Even Congo Peafowl seem intrigued….are they seeing their reflection in that bit of glass?

And a group of Lesula, newly discovered terrestrial primate species, gather to examine it from a few angles.

But generally the camera trap inspection and “mild alarm” do not result in marked avoidance or any perceptible change of behavior. Nevertheless, the elephant’s “curiosity” — not surprisingly – has led to loss of camera traps. A sort of innocent thievery.

2014 elephant core area in Lomami Park
Elephants moved over a camera trap grid set up on the Losekola study area in the northern Lomami Park. Where the dung was most abundant, the camera trap disappeared.

So be it….

Inoko and the Camera Trap Thief

“There’s a new species of monkey at Bafundo” (Henri Silegowa)
“I doubt it!” (John Hart)
“Show me the photos. Where is the skin?” (still John)
“The hunter refused to give up the skin, but,” Henri explained, “There are photos, still in the camera at Bafundo.”

Inoko female_hunter kill
One of the photos on the Bafundo camera. It was a female.

The next morning John and Henri left Kindu for Bafundo camp and that same evening John agreed it was indeed something new. Our second mystery primate.

known occurence of Inoko copy
We can not yet describe it’s distribution beyond a couple of points on a map.

A few hunters gave it the name Inoko, but many local hunters did not recognize the monkey. Is that because it is so rare? or too small for bushmeat? or is this a recent range-extension, or a hybrid???

A month later we had another hunter’s kill and this time a skin.

2nd Inoko_male
The second Inoko was male.

The taxonomic plot was thickening.

But we needed more information about habitat, range and diet. The animal is secretive – very secretive. So we put up camera traps.

We sent 5 camera traps to Bafundo. Old ones and unfortunately three did not work. The two in the field did indeed catch a few animals, but no Inoko.

See bottom right hand corner.

The forest where the hunters found Inoko, was near the villages. It was beautiful forest, but hunted-out. No big mammals were left. Inoko is a diminutive monkey. Still, animals that are much smaller are often caught on cameras. So why no Inoko ? We waited.

Then one of the cameras disappeared.

If I had known, I would have been furious. But Assani, the head of camp TL2, along with Silas, JP and Serge took the information straight to the village chiefs. Within 8 km of our camp there are three villages, Likanjo, Bafundo and Bote. The chiefs responded.

Chiefs from the 3 villages
The three chiefs from villages near our Bafundo camp: Likanjo, Bafundo and Bote.

They wrote a letter and signed not as individuals but with the symbol of custom. The camera had to be returned within two days or traditional punishment would be meted out.

letter with customary "signature"
A letter with customary signature is not taken lightly locally.

There was a suspicion. A traveling salesman told Assani that a certain Bakoto, had tried to trade some sort of camera for a cloth. Was it perhaps the lost camera trap? But no proof.

The traveling salesmen
Traveling salesmen sitting in front of their wares in Likanjo.

The second morning after the chiefs’ letter was distributed, at 6AM, Assani, our camp leader, was called to the house of the chief of Bafundo. The camera had been deposited at his door during the night with, unbeknownst to the thief, recorded evidence of his identity.

Caught in the act.

The story could end here, but the chiefs were not content. They wrote a letter to Bakoto warning him that he had to present himself. He was known.

Bakoto fled. He stayed in the forest. A few days ago, when he was fishing, his hook (a large #6) flipped back and caught him between the ribs. He is at the Lokando hospital. Traditional justice was done. Bakoto will continue to feel pursued. There is no doubt. He has no choice.

Trying to increase the camera traps looking for Inoko, Guylain, our motorcycle driver-mechanic, started taking apart the dysfunctional ones.
fixing camera traps at Bafundo
Guylain with Manaka, our second driver, as assistant.

camera traps dismantled _checked with motorcycle battery

By cleaning off rust and repairing a broken wire, he managed to recover two more for the forest.

Painting for Apes

Cleve Hicks, who led our 2012-2103 survey to Bili, has submitted these two watercolor paintings he made of chimpanzees from Northern DR Congo to the Endangered: Art for Apes contest. Check their on-line gallery.

Chimp by Cleve Hicks
African Ape in the Sunset

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Artist in Residence along the Lomami

Roger Peet at Obenge

Roger Peet (author of this post) sampling Ebambu fruit on his 2012 trip to the Lomami.

I’ve made two trips to the TL2 region, the first in 2012 and the second earlier this year. Each time I’ve been overwhelmed by the richness and diversity of the country, the generosity and depth of the people, and by the strange new world of culture and nature that I experienced. As a visual artist I’ve tried to make images that evoke some of these experiences.

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