Traditional hunting was not more gentle than hunting today. A large mammal, like an okapi, falling on spears sticking straight up in a pit, is not gentle.
These men are covering a pit dug along a narrow animal trail.
But traditional hunting does NOT empty the forest. Bushmeat hunting is different, it scours ever larger areas of forest. Traditional hunting was local: it happened in nearby forest that was just as much home as the village, and, in the past, was set in a vast matrix of virgin forest containing un-threatened animals.
Traditional weapons were arrows, perhaps poison tipped, and spears. The inner bark of the Kusa liana (Manniophyton fulvum) rolled into a narrow tensile line and knotted into a net used in communal hunts. Pits were dug deep into the forest floor, covered and camouflaged. Ingenious snare traps were made of flexible poles and lianas.
John (20 years ago) inspecting a Red River Hog killed with a spear.
All of these methods of hunting still exist but it is the new techniques and the new scale that empty the forest.
Snares made with wire or nylon line can wipe a forest clean of animals. When made with traditional fiber rope, snares rot in the rain, also they can not withstand the strength of a large struggling animal. Wire and nylon can.
A blue duiker caught in a nylon snare, ©Copyright_Reto Kuster
Where did the wire and nylon come from, when did they infiltrate the forest? During the colonial era the offal of advancing modern society penetrated the Congo. The wire filaments of truck tires abandoned behind the mission station were perfect for snaring small animals. And the winches on land-rovers, or the drags from logging rigs provided cable to untwist and re-form into a noose that could hold a forest pig or okapi.
These new traps were so efficient the forest around the village grew silent and the hunting radius had to move farther and farther from the village.
Occasionally a villager owned a 12 caliber rifle, often a home-assembled version, BUT truly long distance hunting for big game came with weapons of war.
This was no longer villagers hunting for subsistence or to sell meat for a little cash to buy the family a round of new clothes. No. This was military and ex-military seeking ivory to fill the coffers of military officers in large cities far away. Their weapons of war could destroy a herd of elephant.
Elephant family at the kind of forest opening (mineral lick) where they are frequently hunted. ©Copyright_Reto Kuster
The origin of these weapons is a bloody footnote in the long war that has ravaged Congo and that drags on in the Virungas. This part of the war never made international news. Along TL2’s southern savanna border war struck in 2001 when the Rwandan backed RCD-Goma streamed towards Kinshasa to attack the current president’s father, Laurent Kabila. National troops and local families fled into the forest; abandoned AK-47s made their way north, down the Lomami, and are now killing the remaining elephants along the TuTu River.
Weapons abandoned by troops as they fled into the forest
Also in 2001, taking a forest route, Tutsi-backed RCD chased the Hutu Interahamwe deep into the TL2 landscape. A well-armed Colonel Jado of the RCD, originally from south of Ubundu, fomented ancient racial strife between the Banyamituku and the Balengola. There was massacre and rape. A small aside perhaps, but five years later the Balengola could count among their losses the extermination of all their elephants.
Eventually we hope we can put this map in the sidebar, but until then, here it is inside the post to help orientation
The pursued Rwandan Interahamwe chose the most remote area in which to take refuge. For three years, 2001-2003, Obenge was their base. Although all Interahamwe had left, it is no surprise that Ashley arrived in Obenge last year to find mainly hunters from distant regions. Local inhabitants scattered from Obenge years earlier. Their forest was invaded, armed, and, even now, slowly losing its rarest animals.
The memories are raw. As Ashley went up the Lomami for the first time in July and August 2007, the sound of the motor on his dugout sent whole villages scattering into the forest. Only hours later people would filter back in ones and twos. Men first.
One of the men on Ashley’s team comforts two children left in a hunting camp as everyone else fled helter-skelter into the forest, convinced that Ashley’s team were military come to commit atrocities.
Strange how this recent history of TL2 is just as bloody and almost as obscure as the history of forest war more than a century earlier.