The GPS unit (Global Positioning System) has become part of our western way of life—or really—our international way of life, a little hand-held box that will tell me on which square meter of earth I am standing. These units are fixed in cars and in planes. People take them on hikes and on sailboat cruises. Like the internet and 1-800 numbers, GPS makes our world smaller, less enigmatic.
Those born after 1980 think of “over the hill and through the woods to grandmother’s house” as a GPS track-log on a google map.
In Congo’s forests it takes extra effort to get the same result from a GPS unit. Not all units can handle reception through the forest canopy and an extra antenna is needed even for the best adapted unit, such as the Garmin GPS 60 pictured above at our base in Kisangani (00.51039 N, 25.17849 E is the waypoint).
For forest work we fix the antenna under the hat (demonstrated by Mpaka below). Hands are thus free for pencil and notebook with the GPS unit stashed in a pocket. Note: Mpaka’s pocket label is Barak Obama – a popular symbol of hope here in DR Congo.
Team leaders are responsible for the GPS track log. Throughout the inventory stage of our project every observation path cut through the forest took track points automatically every two minutes.
Along these tracks an additional GPS waypoint was taken for every observation whether a bonobo nest, elephant dung, or poachers camp.
Now that we are in phase two of the project our efforts turn around villages and human activities, but the GPS is just as essential. It allows us to map the distribution of human population as well as threats to the TL2 conservation area.
In April, May and June of this year 2009, Maurice and Crispin took off with a GPS unit to examine human activity around the bonobo forest. Their mission: make sure no hunting is happening in the conservation area, make sure no protected species are being killed anywhere (bonobo, elephant, red colobus….etc) and let everyone know that there soon will be a no hunting season (It started in Maniema on 1st July and lasts through September).
They went from village to village in the Bagengele tribal area. Although there are no villages in the conservation zones, hunters enter from the surrounding villages. We knew that “foreign” hunters came in from across the borders of territory and province. We needed the help of the local people to move them out.
Crispin and Maurice crossed the critical area we hope will soon be national park between the Loidjo and the Lomami and ended up at Chombe Lombe.
They also followed a path off to the west of the TL2 area because these villages send hunters east into the critical forest.
Visitors are uncommon along this road. Mainly hunters coming into their forests from far away. There is little evidence that even the 20th century is underway, let alone the 21st. Only two of 11 villages had any kind of health worker and only four had an elementary school. Of these four only one had a teacher who had actually finished high school. There were over 6000 people living along this path of about 50 km in length.
This post was put together from the photos, waypoints and report of Maurice and Crispin.
Location of villages on Google Map.
View Community Work & GPS in a larger map