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.

Hunter puts his bonobo bushmeat in the flames
Hunter from Tshombe Kilima puts bonobo carcass on the fire.

More progress in 2012: a hunter in Tshombe Kilima voluntarily came forward with the bonobo he killed. We had spoken with the village chief. “An animal never to shoot.” The hunter brought the dead bonobo and we burned it openly. The village witnessed.

Chiefs watch bonobo bushmeat burn
Village watches the burning bonobo outside the project TL2 compound in Tshombe Kilima.

But just a few months later, walking from Tshombe Kilima towards the Park we met hunters. The bushmeat they were packing out was completely enclosed in a white fake-burlap bag.

hunter with meat
This hunter’s bushmeat is completely enclosed in a bag.

Usually meat is exposed; there is less rot that way. Not so with completely protected species. If it is a carcass a hunter should not have, specifically bonobo, better to hide it. We were walking without a park guard. We could not ask them to open their pack – no authority.

hunters packing out meat
This hunter is carrying their meat in the usual way.
(note: outside the park hunting is legal BUT hunting bonobo is illegal everywhere.)

There are only 6 park guards for 8,870 km2 of park and the TL2 project is not their boss. Generally the guards accompany our patrols, but sometimes one or more will disappear for weeks at a time at the order of their chief. We do not even know where they have gone.

omo and guard
Omo, TL2 staff, on patrol with a park guard. Poachers are sitting on the left.

The following year, 2013, again in Tshombe Kilima our team leader, Kinois Kitoko, came back from patrolling the park with a dead bonobo and the shotgun. The hunter ran off, there was no guard, no ability to pursue him.

Kinois with shotgun
Kinois Kitoko, TL2 staff, with confiscated shotgun.

Tshombe Kilima is at the end of the road, close to the park. Hunters come from far away to enter the forest there.

where bonobo meat comes from
Tshombe Kilima and Bafundo are both at the end of roads leading towards the park.

Bafundo is another village at the end of a road, close to the park. Hunters of many ethnicities come to Bafundo to hunt around and in the park. In the last three months two bonobo hunters have escaped from our teams when they were patrolling without guards. We got the bonobo carcass and in one case their shotgun, but there was no punishment.

hunter with killl in garden
Hunter holding up parts of butchered bonobo. He fled that night.

So we have NOT stopped bonobo hunting along the Lomami. Time to add a second method to patrols.

What if there was no Market? Kindu is the only market for the southern TL2? What if real punishment at the end of the supply chain closed the bonobo market?

In Congo-Brazzaville there is a group called PALF that investigates wildlife crime and works with local law enforcement. One of our funders  asked if there was someone we wanted to send to PALF for training. Leon Salumu went and spent 6 weeks.

LEON at take-off
Leon always seems to follow events at several levels — ideal for investigative work.

Leon came back at the end of November; at the same time one of PALF’s supporters agreed to help us build our own law-enforcement initiative.   Already there is change. Leon started by canvassing all 8 Kindu bushmeat markets.

selling small bits of bonobo
The pieces of bonobo meat this woman is selling at the Alunguli market, she bought at the Makengele market.

Here is what Leon has found out:
In December and January, Bonobo was sold openly in all three communes of Kindu.
The price of an entire smoked bonobo varied between $15 and $70 depending on the size of the carcass. All 8 markets had bonobo meat at least once a week. But only a couple were big turnover markets for Bonobo.

bonobo meat in Makengele market
A stash of Bonobo meat under the stall at the Makengele market.

An important first market is Makengele where bushmeat comes in by bicycle and motorbike from the Olangate road (direction of park).

bonobo meat in kindu market
Bonobo as you buy it at the market.

The women who sell bonobo do not have a particular clientele. Some say it is a high quality meat, on the level of leopard or elephant meat. Others say it is just bushmeat with a special attraction for pregnant women. If they eat bonobo many believe it will make their children tougher and able to hold their ground in front of bullies.

arrested with the bonobo she was selling
Bonobo seller arrested in one of Leon’s operations.

Here is what Leon did with the help of the secret service and the national police:
Five arrests were made and as a result, since February, bonobo meat has nearly disappeared from the markets. His informants keep a constant vigil. Two of the arrests are being pursued at a high level of justice.
This is the challenge: Will these arrests lead us to  higher – protected  people who support the bonobo hunters?
This is another challenge:  Leon must educate and motivate the lawyers and judges. Laws concerning fauna are not known and not taken seriously; not very long ago a politician passed out elephant meat among authorities to strengthen his position. Now those same authorities should arrest that politician? Leon is positive that attitudes will change.

palais de justice Kindu
Leon will spend a lot of time here, at the courthouse in Kindu, during the upcoming months.

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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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.

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