There is a small forest opening in the mile after mile of closed forest that stretches east from the Lomami River and into the watershed of its tributary, the Loidjo.
Fifteen years ago and “forever” before that, people came not to hunt, but to make salt. They came with traditional clay pots and boiled the water until only salt was left. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of forest elephants came for the salt water as well. This mineral lick was part of an elephant culture. Elders in the villages of the Balanga say that the elephants came in group after group: mothers with their young, older siblings close to younger siblings. Buffalo came. Bongo came.
Elephants coming to a natural forest opening, a mineral lick. This photo taken two years ago by Reto Kuster in the Ituri Forest. ©Copyright_Reto Kuster_E-Mail [email protected]
Even when people switched mainly to salt imported from elsewhere, they still did not disturb the culture of the elephants. They hunted only small animals with snares.
And then war swept out of the east into the town of Kindu and people fled into the forest, and foreign soldiers with military guns followed into the forest. Lots of guns followed into the forest.
The last elephants were killed at this clearing in 1999. Then the last of the buffalo were shot. Then the bongo. But still the pigeons came for salt; Pigeons came by the thousands.
In 2000 they started capturing pigeons and smoking them for the market in Kindu –small, skewer-sized bushmeat.
A happier picture. These Green Pigeons are at the Mehwa clearing in the Ituri. The same opening where the picture of elephants, above, was taken.©Copyright_Reto Kuster_E-Mail [email protected]
The trappers at the TL2 clearing say the pigeon catch is diminishing. Every day the nets are stretched across the opening, every bit of bare ground is covered.
Eight years ago they would catch more than 1500 pigeons each day. Now they catch between 250 and 400 in a day. The nets are up every day.
Remember the North American passenger pigeon? There were once so many they would eclipse the sun as they flew by. Now, they are no more.
The photos below were taken last month at “Parc des Pigeons”.
Location of Parc au Pigeon
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