Ranger (center) in 2008 during his arrest for Ivory poaching. After 2 years in prison, he is back poaching Lomami elephants.
Four gangs are now poaching the remnant elephant population of the Loamami Park:
— Ranger’s gang from north west of the park,
— Tchuma’s gang from the north center of the park,
— Sylva’s gang from the north east of the park, and
— Thom’s gang from dead center of the park.
We only have two photos of Thoms – this one before he served time in prison for, among other things, 135 rapes in the western buffer zone of the Lomami Park. Thoms “escaped” after less than three years of what was to be a life sentence in high-security prison. He continues poaching (and raping).
An estimate based only on observations of informants from the two northern towns of Opala and Ubundu is that 23 elephants have been poached from the Lomami in 2015. Might well be more.
The amount and availability of elephant meat in Opala – photo above in Sept 2015 — was a first sign of increasing danger. ½ kg (just over 1 lb) costs about $2. Informants say bandits’ guns and ammunition come from the Congolese military.
Arrests and confiscations have started. A group of determined officials within the Congolese military (FARDC), the Congolese secret service (ANR), the parks service (ICCN) and the Congolese provincial administration (Orientale Province) are cracking down. Not easy. They often find that certain doors within their own administrations are closed, the very places from which the most help should be coming.
— Date: 7 Sept 2015 – 53 kg (116lbs) of ivory confiscated at Kisangani’s Bangoka airport.
— Date: 22 Oct 2015 – 20 kg (44lbs) of ivory confiscated from Bangoka at the foot of a ServeAir cargo plane.
As a military stated himself:
“First, it is against the law to kill elephants, but second, the very bandits we supply with arms and ammunition today, will turn on us tomorrow.”
Thoms and his gang is the example to be feared. Supplied with arms and ammunition by the military for elephant poaching since 2007, Thoms has turned against the military and the population.
This 2009 letter from Lieutenant Omari (previous FARDC commander in Opala), stamped with his official seal, informs members of Thoms’s gang of ammunition deliveries. Among others, he mentions Tchuma, now with his own independent poaching operation.
Note: in the last three years, with military arms and ammunition, Thoms has killed at least 5 FARDC soldiers and wounded others. At least three civilians have been killed by his thugs, among them Kapere who worked for our TL2 project. Col Thoms’s gang has burned four villages and tortured at least six civilians, three of them TL2 project workers.
Some recent arrests are promising:
— Date- 23 Sept 2015: Felix Bongela Yafolo, a poacher, is arrested in Ubundu with a trunk, heart and liver from a recently killed elephant.
— Date- 4 Oct 2015: Lieutenant Asumani Sumaili is arrested by the Republican Guard at a river crossing on the road between Opala and Kisangani. He is carrying two whole elephant tusks and elephant meat.
— Date- 9 Oct 2015: Captain Didier Bosongo Basosila is arrested 18 km outside Kisangani, coming from Opala. He has a suitcase of ivory.
— Date- 9 Oct 2015: Akili Okondo, an elephant poacher, is arrested in Opala and sent to Kisangani. He admits to bringing ivory to the military in Opala.
The poacher Mobeti, photo above, was recorded saying:
“ …if you are arrested, the military commander will act like he doesn’t know you, but then he will liberate you. …I collaborate with the army: if you tell me ‘Mobeti, take this gun, go find ivory’ ; if you buy me my rations; OK, I go. …If you want to leave, you say, ‘Mobeti, give me back my gun’. I give it back to you. …But I won’t hide it from you, Mzee, it takes three chargers to kill an elephant. In fact an animal was killed with 101 shots, three hunters fired…”
If that amount of ammunition is going to the poachers, they now have significant stocks.
The price of ivory in Kinshasa varies. It depends on the quality of the ivory and where the transactions occur. In the second half of October 2015: ivory can be bought for from $150 to $200 per kg and resold for up to $300 per kg. These prices will keep driving the slaughter; 100 kg of ivory will bring over $15,000 maybe up to $30,000.
The civil society of Opala gave a plea over the radio:
“…the military officers that poach elephants in Opala receive support from their commanders…”
“ ..the military court in Kisangani should seek more information in the case of Captain Bosongo and Lieutenant Asumani. We need to know where and to whom they have sent ammunition and military weapons …”
We join the civil society of RD Congo in thanking the authorities that are determined to reveal the ivory scam that is destroying Congo’s elephants and bringing fear and violence to the Lomami.
The minister of Orientale Province talks to the press. He gives the following injunction: Our country’s re-found peace should be an opportunity for us to rebuild our wildlife. It is deplorable that certain of our fellow citizens destroy all the efforts put forward by the Republic to create a new national park, and they do so saying that they are obeying their own hierarchy.
Are the above arrests and confiscations enough to stop the Lomami elephant massacre? It will be slowed, at least temporarily, but with the ivory price so high, we must remain united with the Congolese officials — those who are determined to protect elephants and the rural village populations. We must not relent until the poachers themselves are brought to justice.
Of these elephants caught on camera trap along the Lomami in 2014 — how many remain?