It was on 1st July 2015 that Asanga Gilbert brought four dead bonobos into Likanjo, the hunters’ village that has cankered up on the west side of Bafundo. A PALL1 informer sent a message by HMS radio to Leon in Kindu.
“You should be here,” is all she said.
Leon informed the TL2 camp leader in Bafundo, by satellite Thuraya, to talk to the informer. Leon also sent a message to Major Salumu, head officer of the army unit in Bafundo, “There might be need for an operation.” Then Leon took off by motorbike to join them.
The informer ran a little path-side restaurant in Likanjo. Sprightly and social she had found out quickly after Asanga arrived from the forest with loads of meat. He came from the path that traverses the Lomami National Park. Some of his meat was in completely closed sacks – possibly protected species – and he preferred to sell them immediately – local restaurants were fine.
Over the last few years the TL2 teams distributed plenty of plasticized-picture printouts in Likanjo and Bafundo –everyone knows the totally protected species, species that cannot be killed anytime, anywhere –bonobo among them.
When Leon arrived the next day at 11 o’clock Asanga was already arrested.
It was the closed hunting season (but only the first day); he was coming from the park (but could anyone prove he had not hunted in forest outside the park?); But in his packs the four bonobos had been discovered, cut up and thoroughly dried.
If justice moved as it did several years ago, Asanga would now be back in the forest with his 12-caliber shotgun. He might have spent a few months in jail and certainly he would have lost all of his game from the ill-fated 2015 hunting trip. A few years ago that was punishment enough, but it was not enough of a deterrent.
The remaining hands and feet. The rest probably eaten along the way by the hunter.
Bonobo were still being caught and sold. Next time a hunter came on a chattering group of bonobos in late afternoon hours, what would make him think twice? What example would make him shake his head and keep on moving? It would be easy to know where they chose to build their night nests. It would be easy to be there in the pre-dawn hours. And easy to bag two, three, even four like Asanga had.
The first steps of justice were less humorous than Asanga expected:
The Major examined the loads. The Environmental officer wrote a PV (Proces Verbal). It was duly signed even if only on paper torn from the ubiquitous school children’s “cahiers” or exercise notebooks.
But where was the humor? After all bonobos were just animals – it was just meat.
It would not have surprised Asanga if all his meat was taken away; the army could do that. They would use a law to confiscate, then eat the meat and let the hunter go.
But this went much farther. A motorcycle was rented to carry Asanga to Kindu and another with the dried bonobos.
Instead of gaining from his confiscated bushmeat, money was being spent to send him and a few dead bonobos to Kindu. Five hours on motorbike…120 km one-way.
The next day in Kindu there was a press event. It was not only the OPJ of the police, but also the Minister of the environment and the head warden of the Lomami National Park.
Then for a whole year justice marched through its slow process and Asanga served a first entire year in prison.
This is how it happened. Instead of allowing the case to disappear and sort itself in an “informal” manner, a lawyer, Willy Ali, followed it step by step. Document by document.
Asanga was duly registered. Who was he? He was a Mulanga, and he was hunting in the Balanga forests, BUT his residence is in Kindu. He was hunting the forests of his brothers to sustain his city life.
The judgement has been given (26 August 2016) and Asanga has another 9 years to serve. For Kindu this is unprecedented recognition of the importance of bonobo.
It is tempting to feel sorry for Asanga. We do. Why must there always be a scapegoat? Is it a necessary step to save the bonobos in the Balanga forest? We believe that it is.
And the truly courageous one in this event was the informer. She went out of her way to contact PALL. She was spurned and castigated as a result. All of Likanjo lives off the hunters. She and her husband have left Likanjo; we continue to communicate with her.
1PALL = Program for Application of Law in the Lomami