Eight Months in the Forest Canopy

To be exact: Eight months spent watching a single forked branch, 17 meters (56 feet) above the ground in the Congo’s Lomami National Park.

Base of an Uapaca
The aerial roots is usually all we see of an Uapaca tree. The slash confirmed its identification.

My name is Daniel Alempijevic, a graduate student from Kate Detwiler’s Primatology lab at Florida Atlantic University. I lead a collaborative camera trap study with the TL2 Project.

A forked Uapaca branch was faithfully observed by “Euvgenia Cam” for 8 mohths. The camera is named after its donor.

In the Lomami River Basin, a diverse group of primates scour the canopy in search of fruits, insects, and palatable leaves. Each species has unique feeding strategies and tolerances that allow co-existence with other species. Sometimes they form mixed-species groups. Observing the natural behavior of monkeys from the ground in dense, closed canopy forests is daunting, so we use arboreal camera traps.

As part of a camera trap survey designed to detect Inoko (Cercopithecus dryas) in TL2, one camera recorded animal encounters throughout the fruiting period of a Uapaca heudelotii tree.

Some of the Uapaca fruit within the camera trap’s detection zone.

Since the camera was setup (Dec 3,2016) through mid-April, primates were making consistent but infrequent visits to the tree, averaging less than two primate detections per week (n=1.75). Then, over an 8-week period between April and June the frequency of detections per week greatly increased (n=9), with 14 primate detections during one week in May.

The reason for this spike in detections is clear; this was when the Uapaca fruits were ripe and all monkeys converged on it. The number of videos showing primates collecting and eating fruit show the same trend as the primate detection frequency. After this period of increased foraging, the primate detections decrease (n=2.4) through the remaining 5 weeks. During the 8-month period, 6 of the 8 diurnal primate species known to occur in this part of the forest were recorded; the elusive and sub-canopy dwelling Inoko, along with the bonobo, however, never came to that forked branch.

The 6 species of primates detected by the camera trap. The colobus is the only one that is mainly a leaf eater. Here the independent clips have been spliced together. Note the hornbill at the end of the video; they too are important seed dispersers.

This video from the Uapaca branch revealed an important aspect of tropical ecology, the relationship between tree and frugivore. Tropical forests are rich in fruits of various sizes, colors, and palatability. This variation in fruit is matched by a diverse frugivorous community of birds and mammals. Carbohydrate-rich fruits contain seeds that can survive digestion unscathed and sprout in a new location after passing through the animal. This is a primary means of dispersal for tropical tree species. Fruits are a patchy resource, both in space and in time. Fruit density is highest during the dry season, having matured during the rains.

Primate density at a site is dependent largely on availability of food. Monkeys disperse over large areas when fruits are not readily available, converging where fruit density is highest. The distribution and density of fruiting trees starts with their dispersal. The patterns of animal movement, responsible for much of the dispersal, can thereby trace an early blueprint of forest composition.

Highway Robbery

Blood-letting and blood-loyalty beside Lomami National Park.

(My observations in parentheses. I translate and include parts of several narratives)

O2 parc au pigeon1
Omo on a patrol to prohibit pigeon captures in the park.

OMO or O2 : Our trip was planned for Saturday the 4th March, but we did not take off until Sunday. I was making a monthly trip to pay salaries, distribute operating funds for the month, and collect field data at two of our field bases, ChombeKilima (CK) and Oluo.

Manaka on moto1
Manaka, our motorbike driver.

Manaka (my motorbike driver) and I quit Kindu at 9h and stopped in Dingi. I met with Benjamin, leader at the park guards’ training center. We shared a beer with Leon (of our TL2 project) who was returning from a mission in the north at Balanga Ouest.

Kasuku crossing
Kasuku river crossing

We continued at 1 PM. After crossing the Kasuku River we passed through Makoka village at about 4 PM. Deka, from the village of CK was on his motorcycle behind us. He drove so poorly, we almost let him pass for fear he might hit us from behind; but instead we stopped and I lectured him to maintain a safe distance. This turned out to be very fortunate.

Map_route taken on 5th march
Omo’s route on the 5th of March 2017.

Not more than 50 meters beyond, we came up from a wooded stream onto a short savanna patch. We slowed way down as the path was narrow and broken into eroded ridges.

We heard a loud bang whose impact threw us to the ground.

My first reaction was “a blown tire”. My body felt nothing. I got up to inspect the motorcycle, but Manaka began to flee. As I approached to see the tire I heard a voice cry in Swahili “They shot them!!”. It was Deka coming behind us. We’d been shot! I quickly turned to follow Manaka.

It was then I began to feel an incredible heaviness in my right leg and arm. When I reached Manaka my first thought was to see who did it. I said lets stay hidden in the grasses where we can see who comes forward. Manaka looked at me, but turned to flee towards the trees. It came to me that I was like someone bewitched, waiting to meet my death. I fled after Manaka and saw that his shirt was covered with blood. My arm and leg were very heavy and I could feel the pain rising – movement cost incredible determination. I refused to look.

We were near the small stream when we heard Deka calling us. I kept Manaka from answering instead we went slowly through the trees to try to see – was he alone? Was the attacker there? And Who would attack us, anyway? I could only think that it might be the family of the poacher recently killed by one of the eco-guards.
Who else could it be if not that family?

Deka was alone on the path calling for us, only women washing clothes were nearby. We came out of the trees. When the women saw Manaka covered in blood they fled. We now advanced with Deka, back towards the village of Makoka; that was our only hope for help.

Makoka_similar village
This near-by village is the size of Makoka.

I moved by little jumps, I could only put weight on my left leg. I could no longer move my right arm. Deka carried Manaka on his back, Manaka’s arms around Deka’s neck.

All of this in maybe 20 minutes from when the shotgun attack threw us down.

I got to the village first. I was in a state of anxious confusion; I suspected everyone. I did not want the villagers to see that I was wounded, but could not hide the limp. I put my hand in my pocket as blood was dripping down my fingers. Now it pooled in my shoe. I tried to walk upright.

Makoka meeting_pharmacie
A recent meeting in Makoka showing a building the size of the dispensary with writing on its wall.

I went straight to the so-called dispensary. There was no one competent, and no materials or useful medicine at all, even for simple first aid. I despaired. Deka then stumbled into the village, releasing Manaka next to me. I too slumped to the ground and the blood pooled around us. Villagers gathered.

Just then the groupement chief came up; the passenger on Deka’s motorbike had run ahead to alert him. He was surrounded by others…they decided to go straight back to the motorbike to see what they could find.

JA in forest clearing
Junior in forest clearing.

JUNIOR: I arrived in Chombe Kilima (CK) the 3rd of March, having walked across the park from Katopa camp. I had to work with the patrol teams from CK and Oluo then I would return to Kindu. I already had satellite communication (thuraya) with Omo in Kindu. I would return with him. He was coming to pay salaries in CK and Oluo and he was coming with a second moto to carry provisions for the teams. I would return on that moto.

Michel with Manaka's daughter
Photo of Michel with Manaka’s daughter. Manaka had befriended him and helped get him jobs with the TL2 project.

I was working with the notes of the patrol teams on Saturday the 4th of March when the moto-taximan we often used, Michel, arrived with the provisions on his motorcycle. I asked him where Omo and our project driver, Manaka, were…we expected them to come together. He assured me that they were behind, but that they would come this same Saturday. He, Michel, would be my driver on Monday the 6th. He dropped the load and left quickly. His family home was nearby.

Omo and Manaka did not come Saturday. I worked all day Sunday, the 5th of March with the teams. About 4:30 PM the batteries of our computers had no more charge. Because I had to finish the work with the teams before leaving the next day, I sent Maga to Makoka to recharge the batteries on a generator there. Michel had left his motorcycle at our compound. Maga took Michel’s little brother as his driver and took off immediately.

On the savanna before arriving at Makoka, Maga saw the project motorbike lying by the side of the road. He stopped and began calling, “Omo” “Manaka”, at the top of his voice.

Michel’s brother, also disturbed to see the motorbike abandoned at the side of the road offered an explanation “Maybe they went to help my brother. He has been hunting here all day.”

villagers coming on savanna
A large group of villagers from Makoka come out on the savanna.

Very soon a large group of villagers comes out of the trees, led by the chef de groupement. They tell Maga about the attack and that Omo and Manaka are already in Makoka, Manaka in serious condition. Maga immediately sent the village chief of Makoka back to me in Chombe Kilima to explain what happened and so that I could send a satellite message to Kindu. Maga, himself, returned on foot with the rest of the men to Makoka.

O2 at bafundo training with JAH
Earlier photo of Omo with John and several team leaders.

OMO: There was no medical help for us in Makoka. Nothing. We had to move ahead probably all the way to Kindu. We were surrounded with weeping people as though we had already died. People who knew us and people who hardly knew us. The mother of our worker, Kinois ,was wailing. The father of our occasional motorcycle taxi man, Michel, who had preceded us to Chombe Kilima cradled Manaka’s head on his lap and wept “my son’s friend, my son’s good friend.”

I wondered where I could find a motorcycle. Finally one came along the road from Dingi. Manaka had to get out first, his hemorrhage was terrible. The driver accepted to take him to Kindu and I found someone to sit behind  to hold him on the motorbike.

I needed to find another motorbike. Then I saw the chef de groupement return and he was with Maga and also our motorbike. I saw immediately that my pelican case was no longer on the moto…only a large bag of beans and my small sack with my clothes. It was only then that I understood that we were shot in order to steal our money – I had over 3000 dollars in the pelican case — but who ??

Maga in red pants_interrogation
Maga (red pants) assisting at an interrogation the next day, Junior in jacket next to him.

Maga helped me find someone to drive our motorbike and someone to steady me from behind, as I was weakening fast. It was at 6 PM that I too was evacuated in the direction of Dingi.

Within an hour and a half we had caught up with Manaka’s motorbike. We continued together. First problem was the Kasuku River crossing after dark. There was no one there to cross us; both dugout and paddles were hidden. Fortunately one of the boys transporting me had worked the crossing. With a flashlight they found the dugout but not the paddles. He used his plastic sandals to paddle us and motorbike across. By then 10:00 PM.

Guard Benjamin in village
Guard Benjamin in a village.

We met Benjamin, from the Dingi guard training camp. He was coming to help, the message of our attack had been sent. He turned around and we all got to the camp by about 11 PM. But their small dispensary had nothing helpful. Manaka was losing the most blood and was weak near unconsciousness…so the camp nurse administered a shot of vitamin K3 that they found in the village pharmacy.

There was no option; I was determined that we continue towards Kindu…another two or three hours…to get treated in a hospital. Towards one in the morning Benjamin gave us three eco-guards and a motorbike to continue to Kindu. At 5 km from Dingi we met Dr John Mupepa and TL2’s other chauffeur, Guylain. They were sent with basic medical supplies to give us emergency first aid.

We returned to the training camp. The electric generator worked all night. Dr John found four shotgun lead impacts on Manaka’s body. A superficial one on the right arm he could take out, but not the ones causing the heavy hemorrhage in his back and stomach. Nor could he extract the one in his right thigh. None of mine could be extracted. Two were to the knee, one near the elbow. Another in the lower arm and one to the thigh. He disinfected and bandaged all the wounds and put Manaka on much needed intravenous serum.

In pirogue on the 6th March morning
The rescue pirogue
Above the rescue dugout. Omo sat in a chair and Manaka lay on a mattress continuing intravenous serum.

The base in Kindu sent a dugout to Lokandu (five miles from Dingi, on the Lualaba river) to evacuate us the morning of 6 March. In Kindu we were transferred to the general hospital.

Hospital kin after first interventions
Picture of Omo and Manada after being transferred to Kinshasa where most of the extractions took place.

JUNIOR: Maga sent the chief of Makoka to give me the news. The little brother of Michel, who had reported Michel’s continuous presence at the savanna edge, was held as first informant. I sent a thuraya message immediately to our TL2 base in Kindu, we started to assess what 12 caliber shotguns were not in the village of CK. We knew who owned them. It was Longo who said that Michel had his shotgun and that he took it yesterday, Saturday – the same day he came from Kindu – in fact he must have gone straight to Longo’s on his arrival to CK.

We were still at Longo’s when Michel, himself, ran up. He asked me, “What’s going on? Why is everyone here?” As though he knew nothing. I also did not want to accuse him immediately. I said that Omo and Manaka had been attacked with a 12 caliber. He responded, “I can drive you to bring them help.”

capture_leading to gun
Michel led us to where he left the shotgun.

I ordered the guards to arrest him. And I asked where the shotgun was he had borrowed from Longo. “I left it in the savanna because I had to go see my father in Makoka who is sick.”

We had him take us to where he left the gun. There was a very recent odor of gun shot and it was loaded to fire again. It was then that he admitted, “Yes, it was me, Michel, who shot Omo and Manaka.” “Why did you do it?” “I wanted to take the money.”

capture_Michel,JA,chef groupement, Makoka
The group of us who arrested then followed Michel out on the savanna.The groupement chef on the far right, next to Junior. Michel in white undershirt.

(At this point the drama of the story should be over. The wounds are treated and the criminal arrested, tried and convicted. But that is not what happened. Why? We could call it personal greed, professional incompetence…)

(Michel whispered to one park guard, Ramazani, that he would tell him where the money was in exchange for allowing him to flee. Michel told him where the equivalent of about 1,300 dollars were, but the guard did not succeed in freeing him as Junior had doubled security by calling for help from the soldiers in Oluo. Later Michel revealed the deception, the guard was arrested, and that part of the money recovered)

capture_guard arrested
Guard Ramazani arrested.

(By the time all the interrogations were over, and the money stolen by the guard –which had first been stolen by Michel — was retrieved it was very late on Monday the 6th of March. Junior, Michel and the incriminated guard arrived at Dingi close to midnight. Junior decided to spend the night at the guard training center and continue with the prisoners to Kindu in the morning.)

Guard Benjamin returning from Katopa
Earlier photo of the Guard, Benjamin, walking the savanna on return from Katopa.

(Benjamin – ICCN head of the training center – took Michel off alone for his own private interrogation. Junior, exhausted, found a cot and slept. When finished, Benjamin apparently told a guard to bind Michel’s arms and legs and watch him all night.)

(In the morning, Michel had escaped and, of course, the rest of the money has never been found. To this day – and despite near-apprehensions – Michel is still on the loose. He is among his blood-brothers and uncles in villages of Maniema)

hospital_Manaka_May_fragile but able to laugh
Manaka in May at the Kinshasa hospital, fragile but able to laugh.

(Both Omo and Manaka were flown to Kinshasa for operations to remove the lead-shot. Omo is now back in Kindu and getting better day-by-day. Manaka never really recovered. He died in July.)

(We end this first sequel with photos. We hope that there is a final sequel soon.)

funeral_Manaka's wife and MM at coffin
Matthieu, TL2 program manager, with Manaka’s wife by the casket.

Matthieu’s tribute:
You drove me many places over several years and even now I can see where we passed together. Given your generosity and your hospitality, you were friend to everyone and everywhere. You were courageous and always available whenever anyone had need of you, early in the morning or late at night. You left us so soon, and we still need to have you with us.

funeral_when coffin put in hearse
As the casket is put in the hearse.

funeral_last goodbye
Final wave good-bye.

funeral_wake in Kindu
Mourning in Kindu, as in Kisangani, while the burial took place in Kinshasa.

Two Red Colobus-Two Sides of the Lomami River

I was just thinking_tholloni
Handsome, seemingly pensive, red colobus on the west bank of the Lomami River, Piliocolobus tholloni.

Red Colobus are among the most beautiful – and difficult — of primates. Their cloaks of red, black and white enchant, but are elusive. Until now, this did not matter in the Lomami National Park. We had only one “sort” of Red Colobus – the beautiful tholloni – on the west bank of the Lomami. We know what it looks like: predictably stunning red cloak, red shoulders even its chest and stomach are tinged red.

hunting camp raid in park
Henri, on right in green boots, raiding a hunting camp in the park with ICCN guards, on the same patrol mission where they saw the east-bank red colobus.

But then, in 2016, we received a satellite phone message from Henri Silegowa. Henri is our field leader who several years ago found the dryas monkey in the TL2 landscape. His message was that his team had found a red colobus on the east side of the Lomami River. But red colobus had never been reported there. The endangered parmentieri red colobus was known to be only far to the north of the park.

parmentieri in the Lomami National Park
Piliocolobus parmentieri‘s range was thought to be limited about 60km north of the park until patrol teams started reporting sightings in and near the park in 2016 and 2017.

But everything about this red colobus claimed “parmentieri”. The only photo we had of parmentieri was a hunter killed animal, a picture taken north of the park. Compared to tholloni, it is lighter overall especially its undersides but with a distinctive black cape, black hands and feet.

Piliocolobus parmentieri
A hunter-killed parmentieri red colobus from north of the park. The black cape, light undersides and all-black hands are striking.

Henri had seen parmentieri and he sent the photos to prove it:

so what?_parmentieri
White shoulders and white upper lip.

white collar and chest, black hands and feet_parmentieri
Very light throat and chest.

black hand on branch_Parmentieri
All black hands.

John Oates and Nelson Ting, two Red Colobus enthusiasts, stated in a 2015 article that “Species are the common currency used in ..conservation planning”. Red Colobus, they explained, were dangerously short-changed. Sometimes Red Colobus monkeys are all considered to be one species, sometimes 4, sometimes 9, sometimes as many as 18. And all these different arrangements were proposed within the last 20 years.

Red colobus species and distribution_Groves 2007
According to this interpretation parmentieri is limited to an area north of the Lomami National Park, and within the park there is no red colobus on the east bank of the Lomami River.

The problem is this: If only a single species, then the red colobus species is doing pretty well in terms of conservation. Red Colobus monkeys occur over a wide swath of African forest and in a number of protected areas. BUT if we break Red Colobus into distinct species (as above), then some are in great danger of extinction – indeed some are likely extinct.

tholloni dead
Hunter-killed P. tholloni. Shoulders tinged red, face dark.

The problem has been how to break up the species complex: Not only are there confusing variations in coat color between populations, but also changes in cranial structure and vocalization patterns do not all suggest the same species divisions. And there are areas of hybridization. An additional source of information–DNA-based molecular phylogenetics –is now being used. What do the genes say about evolutionary divergence?

phylogenetic tree of some red colobus taxa
All P. parmentieri samples cluster to the exclusion of all other taxa in this phylogenetic tree (see Chaney et al, below)

In the TL2 the phylogenetic tree seems clear. P. tholloni and P. parmentieri are distinct. The Lomami River is known as a barrier for some species such as Lesula. So it is not surprising that the red colobus species on the east is different from that on the west.

leaving on surveillance patrol
Henri setting out with two different surveillance patrol teams from the base Bangaliwa. The teams will be dropped off up-stream in the park.

Why did it take so long to find P. parmentieri? Last year Henri and his teams walked through areas where we had not been since 2012 because of the “terror” spread by Col Thoms.  Col Thoms, greatly weakened, has returned to Balanga West leaving the whole north of the park relatively calm. Last year John organized an elephant census throughout the north of the park and now patrols continue surveillance over areas not monitored between 2012 and 2015.

patrol coverage in park
The increase in patrol coverage everywhere has been important, but particularly in the north of the park.

But Henri’s discovery is not just an extension of parmentieri’s range…it is hope for the species where hope was rapidly fading. P. parmentieri’s range, as previously known, was in the agricultural frontier expanding out from Kisangani. John and Kate Detwiler, in an IUCN red list assessment for the species, report that the Lobaye River forests, once considered parmentieri’s stronghold, are now farmed and the stretches of forest still standing are heavily overhunted. Since Henri’s observations we know the species exists much farther south and in Congo’s newest protected area, the Lomami National Park.

on a patrol where parmentieri found
Henri (green boots) on one of the patrol missions that saw P. parmentieri.

Thomas Strushaker, author of The Red Colobus monkeys, says « The sightings are important, … because they mean that parmentieri might have a better chance of surviving. » And he also says, « Red colobus are good indicators of forest health ; they are … extremely prone to hunting pressure. »

May red colobus continue to peer down from the trees along the Lomami River. May that always be so !!

a troubled look from tholloni
P. tholloni observing from the west bank of the Lomami River.


Chaney, M.E., et al. 2016. Mitochondrial relationships of red colobus monkeys from the TL2 region (Tshuapa, Lomami, Lualaba River Basins), Democratic Republic of Congo, relative to other central African populations. Poster at the International Primate Symposium, Chicago, August 2016

Hart, JA and KM Detwiler in press. Piliocolobus parmentieri. IUCN red list assessment.

Oates,J and N Ting. 2015. Conservation consequences of unstable taxonomies: the case of the red colobus monkeys. Pp 321 – 343 chap15 In A.M. Behie and M.F. Oxenham, Taxonomic Tapestries, the threads of evolutionary behavioural and conservation research. ANU Press, Canberra Australia

Struhsaker TT. 2010. The red colobus monkeys. Oxford : Oxford University Press

Lomami’s Wild West

From the earliest colonial era through the present, Balanga West has always been too far away to matter.

in a Balanga West classroom
A classroom as it now is in Balanga West.

Balanga West is the one hole in the map of our own inventories of 2007-2009. Not because we thought the Balanga West forest was unimportant, it was just too hard to get there.

TL2_block_coverage_in 2008
When we mapped the density of our walked-inventory coverage over the Lomami forest, a hole remained in the Balanga West zone.

Our supplies came from nearest big towns of Kindu and Opala. Balanga West is the most isolated zone– the farthest point from both north and south.

C. Current supply routes and colonial plans
The area of Balanga West is far from both of our supply routes. It’s southern town of Bene Kamba dates from the 19th century. The yellow dotted lines mark the foot paths that the Belgians intended to turn into roads, but independance interrupted operations.

It was the Arabs, before the Belgian colony, who penetrated Balanga West. Elephants were then numerous west of the Lomami.

A. grainy picture of ivory caravan
A 19th century photograph of an ivory caravan in the Belgian Congo.

In the 19th century their supply lines carried ivory east to Zanzibar. Long foot caravans wound through the forests, stopping at the rest point, Bene Kamba, a village that still exists in Balanga West.

B. 1894 map of TL2 region
The village of Bene Kamba on a section of an 1894 map which showed the Congo Free State. The approximate locations of Opala and Kindu are shown although they did not then exist.

Chef Bene Kamba
The chief of Bene Kamba in his village as it is today — not so different from a 120 years ago.

Later, in the first half of the 20th century, the Belgians multiplied rubber and palm oil plantations throughout the most arable of the colonial lands. Balanga West had good soil for agriculture, but how to get anything to market? The obvious route would be the Lomami River except it is not a waterway for commercial cargo. Its long meanders double fuel consumption and at low water there are sand bars and rapids to negotiate.

1943_Belgian Congo transportation map
This 1943 map indicates that the Lomami was not a commercial transport river.

Roads were the other option. Roads from the Lomami to the Lualaba/Congo. The Belgians were working on these, but with independence in 1960 the engineers and wages left (yellow dotted lines on map above).

The roads leave much to be desired
Even roads on the east side of the Lomami are now in poor shape; most are only used by bicycles and motorbikes.

Balanga West became more and more isolated. People left to settle nearer towns. Only the most attached to the land remained.

salt for last resident à Kandolo
This old man is the last resident in the village of Kandolo in Balanga West. Olivier of TL2 is here leaving him with some salt.

The schools were no longer funded, there was no phone coverage, no medical care and there was no market where the people from Balanga West could sell goods and earn cash.

school and students in Yalombe
Children still study although no state money comes into the school and teachers are only paid – in kind – by parents.

Our first contact with people from Balanga West was on the foot path connecting west to east. People from Balanga West carried out huge packs of bushmeat to sell in the east.

carrying bushmeat load from west to east
This Mulanga youth is carrying bushmeat from Balanga West (Kakongo) to the road head in Balanga East.

This was their only source of income. In 2008 we sent a socio economic team to evaluate the situation.

Dino's tent in Balang West village
One of our team’s tents at the end of this Balanga West village.

The Balanga West reputation was this: violent, stubborn, proud. Unfortunately isolation can lead to easy delusion, particularly when there is someone with charisma and a good reason to want to mislead his neighbors.

Col Thoms, prison escapee, murderer, rapist and elephant poacher, is a mulanga from Balanga West. After escaping from the high-security prison, Ossio, he moved to the remaining elephant forest, north of Balanga West, in the territory of the Mbole.

Spy glasses were used to take this video as Thoms refused any cameras during his discussion with the governor’s representatives. He agreed to no longer fight.

He was chased back to Balanga West not for the poaching, rape, torture and murder he committed among the Mbole, but rather because he interrupted commercial traffic on the Lualaba/Congo choking commerce in Kindu. Thoms returned to his home forest and wasted no time exciting the Balanga youth into a militia. He hid amongst them.

three young men from Balanga West
Youth of Balanga West…

His message to the most gullible of the youth was “The Congolese State and TL2-Lukuru will bring the Park here. They want the Park to grow. They will chase us from our forest. It is our duty to destroy them.” Magic would protect them. Grigri would deflect the bullets.

2. blood on the ground
Blood on the ground after a shoot-out between military and Thoms’s militia.

What followed was bloodshed. Thoms set a trap for our dugout, but we had prior knowledge and the dugout was filled with military.

Military head toward Balanga West after village attack
Military in dugouts head downriver towards Balanga West.

The number dead will never be known. 2016 was a hard year: Thoms militia attacked our camp Katopa. The buildings and 40 houses in the adjacent village were burned to the ground. It was only because of one brave woman that we escaped a massacre. In Kakongo, there was rape and pillage. In August 2016, through the efforts of our project, ICCN and the government, a truce was established.

Dancing their surrender
Our camp in Bafundo was used for the ceremony when 136 of Thoms’s militia crossed to the east to turn in their weapons and surrender.

One hundred and thirty-six militia fighters walked out from Balanga West. They laid down 23 army rifles with chargers and bullets. They met with the general of the 33rd regiment. They danced. Thoms did not come. He knew he was a wanted man.

rifles turned in
Their rifles and chargers were turned in, at our camp, at night.

The first trip into Balanga West after the cessation of hostilities included a strong government delegation. They spoke with Thoms, they said the park would not grow, they said the Balanga West peoples could hunt in their own forests.

5. Machozi donne noms des animaux en Kilanga
Machozi, Thoms’s sister, now helps Olivier with outreach in Balanga West.

Our steps are still tentative but positive. We work with Thoms’s sister, Machozi. Others in his family have reached out including those that were leaders in the militias.

Younger brother Thoms, Pharaon, gives gift of bananas
Thoms’s brother, Pharaon, gives Olivier a gift of bananas.

Our goal: to bring the Balanga to manage their own forest. Create a community-controlled protected area, one that will help the communities to refuse outside hunters who now set 100s of traps at a time.

Aid for school children_Ngombe village
Representatives of the parents accept school materials for their children.

But the Balanga are still very cautious. They are not all convinced that we don’t want to expand the park and move them out. Why else would we be there? It is critical to show good intentions.

Balanga West welcomes the “jeton” system. It gives them the possibility to legally take their bushmeat across the park without being accused of hunting in the park.

projet jeton Kakongo
Bushmeat is identified and counted, then the person carrying it is given a voucher, or “jeton”, that he will present when the meat is again counted on the east side of the park.

But how do we show a true sense of collaboration, a readiness to bring Balanga West into the larger society. The Balanga West kept their elementary school running despite great odds. If we can help them build real school buildings and get the school re-registered with the state – it would be a true collaboration.

the 6th grade at Yalombe
Sixth grade class in Yalombe, Balanga West.

It would be done with the help of the parents and chiefs. Someone has already generously proposed 20,000 dollars to build a proper elementary school in Yalombe, Balanga West if we can raise the matching funds. We estimate the total cost to be 36,000 for 6 classrooms and a director’s office. This includes moving metal roofing first by bicycle, then dugout and then head-loading it to Yalombe.

If you can contribute to the match that is needed please use paypal in the right sidebar OR write to lukuru@gmail.com to learn where to send a check or other payment methods.

By building a strong and self-managed buffer zone in Balanga West, we strengthen the park. Please join us!