We are packing to return to Congo. John is filling the humming-bird feeders, here in upstate New York, one last time. The last round of clothes is scraping and sloshing through the washing machine; their next washing will be by hand under our avocado tree in Kinshasa.
I am looking through the pictures that team leaders, Crispin and Maurice, transferred to John just before he left Kindu at the end of May. They show hunters leaving Lomami’s southern forests taking their wire snares and their shot guns.
The short emails we have gotten from the middle of Congo continue to be promising. There is progress. The report from Crispin and Maurice, too, shows real progress to protect bonobo and stop over-hunting. Is this progress permanent? Can we assure it is not ephemeral?
Crispin and Maurice hiked from hunting camp to hunting camp on the east bank of the Lomami River, in the land of the Bangengele. Their message was: there are new hunting regulations; these regulations will be enforced. Importantly, Crispin and Maurice were not alone in carrying the message. Local leaders and traditional chiefs called their people to respect the new regulations.
A chief from the village of Tshombe Kilima walked the Bangengele land with Crispin and Maurice, telling “foreign” Tetela hunters to return across the Lomami to their own province. The hunters are holding snare wire and nylon cord.
Honorable Bushiri is a traditional chief and an elected official. By motorbike he went from village to village informing his people that commercial hunting was mining the land of a resource that, if tended, could be the basis for tourism and a national park. Maurice is beside him in the red TL2 shirt.
Perhaps not surprising, Crispin and Maurice found that remote hunting camps hide a sordid face from Congo’s recent rebellion. Here, in the far south of the TL2 landscape, as in the north, some members of the Maimai militias still take refuge.
As hunters they remain indefinitely on the margins of society while supplying town markets with bushmeat. The Congolese government has made efforts to “re-train” some rebels, integrating them into the army, but options for real alternatives are meager in Congo. Yuda’s wartime record makes him something of a social pariah. Temporarily, at least, we could offer him a job as a porter. We offer local hunters short-term employment, too. For them the immediate financial reward is better than hunting. But what is needed is alternative livelihoods that are long-term: when the game is hunted out, their hunting career is finished. But what is the alternative?