Sing it loud: the Lomami National Park Exists

Rehearsal of the Lomami National Park anthem for the 10th of December 2016.

In October 2016, a colleague from an international conservation NGO in Congo asked us, “Is it true there is a new National Park?” What? She didn’t know?

It was three months earlier, on the 19th of July 2016, that the Prime Minister of RD Congo signed the decree creating the Lomami National Park.

But how could she know?  The only celebration was in the distant province of Maniema whose government played a key role in the final campaign for the National Park.

the general director of the ICCN speaks
At a second ceremony on 10th Dec 2016 , in elephant suit jacket, the DG of ICCN addresses generals and senators, ministers and deputies.


Ambassador Swan speaks
The American ambassador (above), along with the chef of cooperation from Germany and the chief of cooperation from the European Union, addressed the gathering.

The whole nation should know. In Kinshasa on the 10th of December, even as President Joseph Kabila’s government reaches its official term, and opposition forces gather in the streets, the Governor of Maniema called for a national celebration.

mutual appreciation_government and conservation
Terese, of the TL2 project, and the governor of Maniema recognize the interdependence of conservation organizations and government to effect lasting land management for resource protection.

It happened the only way possible: Warring factions were in one room amidst lively music, ambassadors and embassy representatives, top people from top parks, army generals, international conservation organizations, presidential counselors, senators, deputies and a handful of traditional chiefs.

the chiefs from Kailo
The chiefs from Kailo

The disgruntled faction did indeed explode into choreographed battle. The ceremony was briefly taken hostage…but came out singing in the end.

Here is what happened:

a political tirade underway
A deputy of Tshopo stood up and demanded the floor right after the secretary general of the environment gave his words of welcome.

the speakers faced with walkout
The secretary general called him “out of order.” He is flanked, above, by the two governors, Maniema on left and Tshopo on the right.

Tshopo deputy reads manifesto
But, as tensions were rising, the deputy was given the mike to read the Tshopo manifesto. 

Their problem: Maniema Province was becoming park headquarters. Tshopo Province wanted the headquarters. And, more important, there was a land dispute between the provinces well to the east of the Park. Although it had nothing to do with LomamiNational Park, the celebration was the occasion to proclaim provincial rights in front of national authorities.

The Walkout
The deputies and the whole official Tshopo delegation walked out, insisting their governor come with them.

after the walkout
They insisted the Tshopo governor come, too. He left a vacancy at the table.

But the ceremony continued; the breech was filled, but it was now clear the two provinces would have a week of parleys after the ceremony finished.

The show goes on

The song goes on. The park is a wilderness of 8,874 sq km. No hunting, no habitation. It joins, as the 8th national park, those of previous administration (Virungas, Garamba, Kundelungu and Upemba) and the national parks born during Mobutu’s era (Salonga, Maiko, and Kahuzi Biega), Now there is a national park born during Kabila’s era: the Lomami National Park.

policier with calender
And everyone walked away with a calendar and a brochure.

Maniema Meets New York

Leon at the south end of Central Park, NYC
Leon Salumu stands at the Southern end of Central Park a couple days before returning to Maniema, Congo.

Leon Salumu, the head of the TL2 PALL project (assisting law enforcement) spent three weeks of October 2016 in the eastern United States. When he got back to DR Congo, Cintia Garai, the TL2 project’s administrative assistant, asked him a few questions. Here are his answers:

You traveled around New York City one day on your own. Was that hard? How did you do it?
I had a map. I arrived at the train station, and I asked where I could find the Statue of Liberty. They showed me on the map and it turned out that I was not far. But then I realized that because of the weather I couldn’t see further than 10 meters. It was raining and so foggy. I couldn’t even take a picture. I planned to take a boat to see the statue, but because of the weather, I decided to turn back. I visited the skyscrapers instead and the shops. I didn’t want to leave the avenue (Central Park West) or I would get lost too much. Even so I had to ask where the train station was; it was just in front of me. I had a return ticket, so it was easy, and I arrived at the hotel on time for my plane.

from central park
John and Leon in Central Park.

What was the most interesting thing that you saw in NYCity? Why was it interesting?
The huge buildings. And I liked the park in the middle of the city. There are so many people living there, but still they saved a place for a park. I was also surprised by the cultural diversity. It would have been hard to identify people like “he is American, she is European or Asian”; there were so many people with different origins in the huge crowds. It was amazing.
It was also interesting to see more dogs than children; the Americans love dogs!

What was the strangest thing that you saw in NYCity?
I couldn’t have imagined that in New York I would meet people who beg for money. That was strange. There was someone on the metro, he was drunk I believe; he started to bother the other passengers; he shouted. I was not sure if he was really drunk or crazy, or something else. That was a negatively strange experience.
On the positive side, what was surprising is the respect of the law. People obey the law. For example the traffic signs and at the red light the pedestrians stopped. And even in shops people are quiet.

Washing windows with John
Helping John wash the windows in preparation for the coming Winter.

You spent a couple weeks in the northern part of NY State, was it different than you expected?
First of all I was very glad to see the house of John and Terese Hart. I really liked that they live in the middle of the forest. It is calm and perfect for work. The landscape is beautiful, and the trees, the little stream… I also liked the Keene Valley Mountain.

arrived at the Adirondack hostel where we would spend two nights
In front of the Keene Valley hostel where we spent two nights.

That was a big surprise to me. I have never climbed any mountain in my life. We climbed 3 peaks in a row, we started at 7:40 and we arrived back at 19:00. I think it was very important for me.

we were alone on a well maintained trail
We were alone on a well maintained trail hiking up Bear Den, Dial and Nippletop mountains.

What did you do in Adirondack State Park? What did you like most about the Adirondack Park? What did you like least?
What I found surprising is a long path in the park: it was very clean. There are people living around the park, but I didn’t have the impression that they would impose any threat to the park. They could almost be called conservationists. Some people own a piece of forest, and I saw some boards with information that here we cross private land, and here are the conditions: don’t litter or don’t disturb the ecosystem.

we started our hike on private land
The first part of the hike was on private land.

And I couldn’t see any paper or plastic along the road, it was really clean.
When we were on the peak, I was surprised to see a very little bird. It was so cold up there! And I was wondering, how can this little bird survive here?

the trees were little and it was cold and windy near the top
It was cold on the peaks and the trees were small.

What was the most interesting part of your trip?
The most interesting part of my trip is related to our meeting with US Fish and Wildlife Service; they made it possible for me to come to the States and attend a meeting on Commercial Bushmeat.

When the clouds cleared on the way down...
On the way down the clouds lifted.

I could see that they were really interested in our activities. Law enforcement is getting more and more attention. We discussed lots of questions related to the concept of bushmeat. Most of the people from different NGOs working in Central African countries considered bushmeat as entirely illegal. That is certainly not correct in DR Congo. Not all bushmeat is illegal. It was interesting to see this strong reaction against all hunting.

FWS photo_w Leon
Quite serious at the Fish&Wildlife Service workshop on Commercial Bushmeat.

Another very interesting thing was that USFWS asked us, the TL2 Project, how we plan to continue our work in the long-term, after the directors (Terese and John) retire. It was reassuring to see that a donor wants to make sure of the continuity of a project. And this question was important, we discussed a lot all through my trip.

Salumu at USFWS workshop
More animated, getting a point across at the workshop.

For you, what was the most important part of this trip?
Apart from USFWS I also had the chance to meet Wildcat Foundation, and Rainforest Trust. These 3 organizations truly support our work and intend to help us; they are very enthusiastic. This was important for me to see.

The carwash of course
The car got a “power wash.”

What advice would you give to one of your colleagues who had an opportunity to visit the United States?
You need a certain education to get along in the United States. You should speak some English; without that it would be very difficult to travel around: the signs, everything is in English. You have to have discipline, you have to follow the rules, it is different than in my country.

But apart from that, I would suggest to everybody to go and see, because it is wonderful. We visited some museums, and in one of them I read this: “The inquiry, knowledge and belief of truth is the sovereign good of human nature.” I really liked that. Especially because as a part of my job, I make inquiries and I have to find the truth.

Watching football and getting to know an American dog
I watched a football game (soccer) with Chris and Sarah’s dog.

If you want to add anything else, go ahead!
I would like to thank John and Terese Hart, and also US Fish and Wildlife Service for making it possible for me to visit the USA and to participate in the bushmeat meeting.

With Sarah Hart on St Regis mountain
With John and Terese’s eldest daughter, Sarah.

I also enjoyed the meeting with Sarah, the eldest daughter of John and Terese, and her baby and husband, Chris, whose food was the best during my entire trip, I ate a lot when I was with them! And I was happy to meet Kim of course, who already worked with us before.

This too is NY
This, too, is New York, the state of New York (like the province of Maniema).

Monkeys of the Lomami National Park

lesula camera trap
New species, Cecopithecus lomamiensis, locally known as Lesula, detected during the first exploration of the Lomami forests.

When we set out on the first explorations in 2007 we expected to find 9 species of primates in the 30,000 km2 that we called the TL2, an area or landscape of central Congo that includes the middle-Lomami watershed and parts of the bordering Tshuapa and Lualaba (Congo) basins.

map of TL2 location
Map of the TL2 landscape in DR Congo. In 2007 the significance of the area for conservation was not yet known.

Our list of nine species was surmised from distributions given in field guides and published in scientific work. TL2 was thought to be moderately interesting for primates, but definitely NOT exceptional. That proved to be a major misinterpretation.

In fact within the first year we found a new species, the Lesula, Cercopithecus lomamiensis, a monkey that spends much of the time on the ground, unusual for a rain forest guenon. Genetic and morphological studies confirmed that it was distinct from its closest sister species, C. hamlyni.

lesula distribution
The sister species are separated by the forests between the Lomami and the Lualaba (Congo) Rivers.

In 2014 we had another surprise. A small monkey was hung for sale in Bafundo a village where we had one of our base camps. Our teams did not recognize this monkey either. Locally it was given the name Inoko. Indeed John confirmed that there was no monkey in the field guide with the prominent rufous color around the face. Other characters seemed to place it most closely to the representation of the Cercopithecus dryas monkey.

C.dryas male
A male Inoko killed near Bafundo.

Inoko female_hunter kill
A female Inoko hunter-kill.

A student who had visited the TL2, Christina Bergey, sent a photo of the dryas monkey in a comment to our blog post about the new mystery monkey. The photo was taken by Russ Mittermeier, on a trip for CI (Conservation International) to the Wamba-Kokolopori forest, the only area where C. dryas is known to exist. The monkey in the photo did indeed have a rufous trim around the black face, although not in the field guide. Soon afterwards, the scientist who first discovered the dryas monkey in the Wamba-Kokolopori, Suehisa Kuroda, added another comment on the blog. Yes, our photo looked to be the same animal that he had found.

C dryas distribution
The two known populations of C. dryas.

Since the original discovery, we have found C.dryas in a second location 30 km to the west of Bafundo, near the Lomami River and actually in the Lomami National Park. But how do we explain the 400 km of continuous forest and without known C. dryas that separate the TL2 population and the Wamba-Kokolopori population?

So the list of 9 has been expanded to 11 species of anthropoid primates (apes and monkeys) in the TL2.  These are now known to include 13 distinct taxa (i.e. species and subspecies).

The Lomami River itself seems an arbitrator for the diversity. The Lesula for instance is only on the west bank of the Lomami

There is also one species of red colobus on the west bank (Piliocolobus tholloni) and another on the east bank (P. parmentieri).

Piliocolobus parmentieri
Piliocolobus parmentieri, the endangered red colobus of the east bank of the Lomami.

Piliocolobus tholloni
Piliocolobus tholloni, the red colobus on the west bank of the Lomami.

Even the bonobo population on the east and west bank is amazingly different. The laboratory of Takeshi Furuichi found that the bonobos on the east bank of the Lomami are genetically distinct from all those found farther to the west.

the TL2 bonobo genetics
The bonobos on the east bank of the Lomami are genetic outliers.

The Lomami also seems to be an important divide for two Cercopithecus wolfi subspecies, as well, although intermediate forms have been found close to the Lomami River.

C wolfi wolfi
C. wolfi wolfi on the west bank of the Lomami.

C.wolfi elegans
C. wolfi elegans on the east bank of the Lomami.

Interestingly, it is not only primates that split along the Lomami. The Okapi is known on the west bank of the Lomami, but then is absent east of the Lomami all the way to the Lualaba. It shows up again in the forests to the east of the Lualaba.

Not all the patterns of TL2 primate diversity are so geographically distinct.

C mitis heymansi
There is a black form of the blue monkey, C. mitis heymansi. Locally known to our teams as Ngoyi noir.

Ngoyi blanc
But there is also what we call the Ngoyi blanc. And no clear geographic separation. What is its taxonomic status?

Even the red-tailed monkey has phenotypic variation that we have not been able to describe geographically.

white nosed ascanius

yellow nose ascanius
For the red tailed monkey, C. ascanius, the nose patch varies from white toward yellow.  The skin on the face, whiskers and tail also vary.

This blog-post is adapted from John Hart ’s presentation at the International Primate Society conference in Chicago in August of this year. He included a comparison of the primate fauna of the Ituri Forest with that of the Lomami Forests. Though both areas are rich in primates – the patterns of diversity are very different.

Location Ituri & TL2

Ituri and TL2

It was the bonobo and the forest elephant that gave the first urgency to create the Lomami National Park : an important range extension for the bonobo and a substantial, but isolated population of forest elephants. Both were threatened by hunting. But it is the primate discoveries that are revealing the mystery of these forests along the Lomami River and that are revealing the need for continued exploration and strong protection.

Anthropoid Primates (monkeys and apes) of the TL2 landscape.
TL2 anthropoid primates

Why Not Kill a Bonobo

On road to Kindu_no escape possible
Arrested and on his way to Kindu. No escape possible.

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.

Local restaurant
Restaurant as in the center of Likanjo.

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.

Bafundo military reading about totally protected species
A Military in Bafundo reads the TL2/Lukuru protected species handout.

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.

In Bafundo Asanga hands over bonobo
Asanga handing over the bonobo bushmeat to Major Salumu.

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.

Heavily smoked and covered with bugali flour
Bonobo bushmeat smoked, dried and covered in bugali flour from the sack in which it was enclosed.

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.

Heavily dried_the remaining bonobo hands and feet
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.

young bonobo in park canopy
A curious bonobo peers through the foliage of the Lomami National Park at a passing TL2 team. He is surrounded by a much larger and vocal group.

bonobo nest
In the evening they will make a group of nests like this one and pass the night close together.

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.

PV Bafundo_eyewitness of authority
The PV or “proof of evidence” written by the state environmental officer in Bafundo.

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.

Asanga's last supper in relative freedom....
Asanga has a last meal in relative freedom before being taken to Kindu.

But this went much farther. A motorcycle was rented to carry Asanga to Kindu and another with the dried bonobos.

000_Asanga goes to Kindu with escort
A military sat behind Asanga and was responsible for staying with him step for step the whole way.

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.

Judicial officer of the police with Asanga's bonobo and gun
A judicial officer of the police received Asanga’s bonobo bushmeat and shotgun in Kindu.

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.

First meeting with the press
The Minister with the Head warden beside him speaks at the press event.

Asanga given chance to speak
Asanga was given the chance to speak to the press.

Then for a whole year justice marched through its slow process and Asanga served a first entire year in prison.

the evidence hauled into court
The bushmeat evidence is hauled into court.

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.

Kindu's TL2/Lukuru lawyer, Willy Ali
Willy Ali is the lawyer who followed the case through the court.

It is great ape_chimp or bonobo
First step – the meat was inspected by a state expert and proclaimed to be great ape – totally protected.

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 case as detailed
The court document recorded the official residence of Asanga. It is in Kindu.

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.

The PALL informer with Matthieu
The former informer with the TL2 program manager, Matthieu.

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