We are in the very center of Congo because we want to know where and how many bonobos remain in this forgotten forest of 50,000 sq km. What threatens them and other large animals like the elephant and the okapi? Our ultimate goal is to bring real protection to some part of the forest between these rivers: the Tshuapa, Lomami and Lualaba (TL2).
The compass sets the direction, the observers follow and porters are last.
Our teams move out across the forest to specific locations, using GPS waypoints to guide them along a map-determined route. They follow a well-tested protocol of field methods to discover the presence and abundance of forest animals. In May and June two teams were doing just that, but Maurice’s circuit, described here, had a special mission.
A view towards Djonga as the team climbed the hills between the Tshuapa and Lomami watersheds.
Maurice was to lead a team to go to the far west of the TL2 zone to where there is a scattering of small communities called Djonga. Why? Because those communities were angry, angry about conservation. We had heard that a group from further west, one professing to work for conservation, had come to Djonga last year and something went wrong, very wrong. We rely on the good will and support of all the villages in this 3-river area. We need the Djonga population to protect the far west flanks of TL2.
The first stage of the trip was the trek from Obenge to the first Djonga village through the blocks of E15, D15 and C16. It took 11 days.
While Maurice’s team explored the Djonga forests, Crispin was put in charge of discussions with the villagers. Here is the first report of their trip to Djonga:
Crispin crossing forest towards Djonga. Although this stream has a white sand substrate it is clear unlike the black water streams in the north.
Djonga is a cluster of small settlements surrounding several islands of savanna near the Tshuapa River. It took Maurice, Crispin and their team eleven full days to march across uninhabited forest between Obenge and Djonga. This was a major trek with nothing but GPS guidance, even by the standards of these seasoned TL2 explorers.
A pre-dawn breakfast on one of the eleven days of forest-march to reach the villages at the western edge of TL2
The expedition encountered no people and very little sign of human passage in the crossing to Djonga. During the recent war years, however, army detachments, Mai Mai groups, and various armed men under minimal control crisscrossed this forest. They left their noms-de-guerre and often a date carved on tree trunks.
This graffiti tree is on the approach to Djonga
They also encountered little sign of animals. Tracks or dung of okapi, buffalo and bongo were rare. Was this because they had been hunted out, or because the forest soils were impoverished ? Only monkeys were abundant: including the new species of monkey, Lesula, first found close to Obenge.
Hardly a large mammal but this viper was worth a photo along the trek to Djonga. It’s not usual to see them climbing.
Exhausted the team finally marched out of the forest into the clearing of Bolota the most northeastern of the Djonga villages. They were a strange sight indeed in a community as insular as this! And it felt a bit dangerous considering the last visitors had indeed made themselves unwelcome….
Weary but cautious, Maurice prepares to meet the village elders.