News is at once good and bad from our southern study area. This is the part of the future Lomami National Park that has the densest concentration of bonobos.
October 2010. GOOD NEWS. When John was on the study area reviewing the progress of field teams, he wrote excitedly about an on-going self-habituation of bonobos:
“A new chapter in our relations with TL2 bonobos opened when Louison and his team arrived at the T9 campsite at 4:30 in the afternoon to find bonobos there before them. The bonobos were building their nests in trees all around the periphery of camp. When the bonobos did not flee, the team shed their packs and sat in the middle of camp watching the action. By nightfall the bonobos had settled in and the team set up the tents and started their cooking fires. Louison reported lots of vocalizations and some moving around until about 9:30 PM when the animals quieted down. It was clear bonobos and bonobo monitors were going to share the camp site.
Early the next morning Louison and his team moved among the animals as they were waking up. They estimated about 30 animals, not counting infants, in scattered groups all around the camp. Some of the animals were seen in the canopy, others moving on the ground. Several were breakfasting on flower buds from one of the trees. By 8 AM the bonobo community began to slowly move off, and the team sat down to a well-earned cup of coffee.”
A couple such non-fleeing encounters occurred during September and October. These two months were part of the closed hunting season that had been underway in Maniema Province since July. No hunting was reported on or near the study area.
The closed season was over at the end of October. In November, sporadic groups of hunters slipped into the study area. The most upsetting was the news that Dino, one of the team leaders, gave me when I visited our southern field base in November:
Early November 2010. BAD NEWS. A bonobo killed by hunters on the study area.
Hunters avoided the trail system and tried to only set snares where they thought our teams were least likely to go. Some were hunting at night when they thought the teams would have retired to distant camps. They used 12 gauge shot-guns and head lamps.
A double blow was that Wema, a local villager and sometimes porter for field teams, was in the hunting party that killed the bonobo. A year earlier we had paid for his hernia operation and convalescence in the town of Kindu. This just reinforces the obvious: protecting bonobos has to be based on law and law enforcement. Education and diplomacy are important, but not enough. The ADG of ICCN (head of the national parks in DRCongo) had sent guards, but after the closed hunting season they no longer had a mandate to arrest hunters even if they were on our study area.
End of November 2010. GOOD NEWS. An important step forward : the southern study area becomes a protected area by provincial decree!
This part of the future National Park, including where the bonobo was killed, is given complete protection by the governor of Maniema and the environmental minister until we can push for national protection for the entire area that is to be protected (three provinces).