Part 2 – Journal from the Lawless Lomami
OCTOBER 2010: John made a first census of fishing camps on a dugout trip down the Lomami. Having reached the north end of the future park, in a tiny river-bank village, he encountered Colonel Thoms, ex-Maimai, newly escaped convict, elephant poacher and rapist heading the other direction – south and upstream.
NOVEMBER 2010: Colonel Thom’s paddled back up the Lomami to his fiefdom among the Balanga on the west bank of the Lomami.
FEBRUARY 2011: Our largest dugout loaded with camp supplies made its way from Kisangani to Camp Katopa. Maga, superb and charming informant, made enquiries about Thoms in the fishing camps along the way. Upstream from Kakonga (see map) he wrote this:
“…a woman called Mami told me that Thoms came to Kakongo to hunt in the park for ten days. He smoked his monkey-meat and sent it with his brother, Délos, to sell in Kindu. Thoms returned to ‘his place’ and hideout at Losengo.” (Losengo is a tiny village 150 km west of the Lomami River inside the buffer-zone Reserve).
16 MARCH 2010 : The Territory Administrator of Katako Kombe (Kasai Province, west of the Lomami River) calls a meeting of three groups, (1) Chief Lohata of the Arabisés, (2) the chief of the sector Watambola Nord where the Balanga, ethnic group of Colonel Thoms , are numerous and (3) our project, TL2. We sent Salumu Madimba. The reason for the meeting: the Balanga and particularly a group led by an ex-MaiMai, Lomanga, want to fight the Arabisés who they accuse of having sold the forest to us, project TL2. Apparently they expect Colonel Thoms to come lead them. The meeting called by the Administrator disperses the tension and we send a team to meet with Lomamga.
Mid MARCH 2010 : Ephrem, based at our northern camp on the Lomami, Obenge, gets a death threat from a group of outlaw evangelists who say they are on their way to meet Colonel Thoms, to recruit him to their cause.
Late MARCH 2011: John moves down the Lomami to show support for Ephrem at Obenge and to make a second census of fishing camps along the way. We hope to figure out how to “license” fishing camps in a way that will assure they don’t become an anarchistic element in the park. John found hunters camped in two of them, a bad sign.
John with a fishing-family explaining how they can work with the park to help keep out hunting or permanent settlement.
“After I passed Bene Kamba I planned to visit a small natural opening, Parc Hippo, near a fishing camp. Fishermen first showed it to me in October 2010. The clearing is a short walk from the river. A pair of hippos and small group of buffalo frequented the opening. Parrots descended to the exposed mud flats every day to eat the soil. The fishermen left the site undisturbed, focused on fishing.
When we landed almost twenty people, a huge crowd for a fishing camp, came to our dugout. Maga and Mwinyi jumped ashore and moved up to the camp. There was a parrot hunter with over 50 birds in stick cages.
I asked to meet the lead trapper and told him that all parrot trapping was illegal in Maniema Province. The trapper produced an export permit for a Singapore-based pet company dated July 2010. I explained that was not an authorization to capture, and certainly not where it is illegal. He became defensive: “How can I expect to hold an export permit if I can’t get birds!?”
Our project has no authorization to make arrests, or seize birds. There were also hunters and two 12 caliber shot guns in the “fishing” camp. At this point nothing to do, just make a report.
We left frustrated. The next day, 15 km downstream we saw a hippo drifting with the current, one of the two hippos that were now displaced and looking for a new home. Hippos need grassy banks to graze; there are only forested banks downstream on the Lomami. Alas.”
Early APRIL 2011 The ICCN, Congo Parks institute, sends two guards with one of our team leaders, Xavier, to check up on Parc Hippo after getting John’s report. They go with the Governor’s decree forbidding parrot trapping and they try to find out if there is any relation between the illegal hunting and Colonel Thom’s return among the Balanga.
They arrive overland to Bene Kamba. Immediately they are met by Délos, colonel Thom’s brother, and by his friend, Le Sérieux, who run to get the village chief. Chief Beloko is belligerent. “There is no Park near Bene Kamba; What have you come to do here?; Give me your mission order, I must inspect it.”
Xavier and the park guards continue on towards Parc Hippo. They find it abandoned with seven dead parrots left on the ground and four empty cages. A fisherman tells them what happened. After John left to continue downstream, the parrot trappers went to Colonel Thoms who assured them that they had his authorization to stay — as long as he got 30% of the proceeds of their captures. When they left it was with at least 400 parrots.
This country belongs to Colonel Thoms. Délos and Le Sérieux are his tax collectors. The law of DR Congo has little relevance.