Who is in charge here?

Warning some photos that follow may be disturbing.

On the 8th of October this satellite message came from Oluo: 

“At Benekamba- Debaba tortured and ear cut off by Fidel.  Aggressors left in dugout – direction Kakongo.”

There is no telephone, radio or Thuraya in Benekamba.  To get the news out, a bushmeat porter left Benekamba after dark on the 7th and ran/walked as fast as he could to Oluo.

Debaba's ear was cut off and sewn back locally
Debaba’s ear as it looked six days after the attack.

This is what we learned a few days later:  In the early afternoon of the 7th of October, Benekamba looked the same sleepy way it always looked.  Debaba was sitting alone at the chief’s baraza (open air veranda) that looks out across the Lomami River to the east bank and the Lomami National Park.  The village was particularly quiet as most of the men were at the nearby village of Avio playing or watching a game of soccer. 

baraza on right in balanga village
A typical Balanga West village with barraza on right. Most public activity occurs at the barraza.

As usual Debaba was waiting for the next loaded bushmeat porter ready to cross the park.   Debaba identifies the species and counts the number of animals, then gives the porter a voucher. The porter carries the voucher and meat across with him to Oluo, where the voucher is checked against his load. 

On the left two "jetonniers" at Oluo
The “jeton” sign in Oluo. On the left the persons who give and collect the vouchers.

This way people who need to sell their meat in the markets on the east side of the park can carry it across without being accused by park guards of hunting in the park.  This system has made the west bank an important source of bushmeat. BUT this post is not a discussion of hunting or its sustainability. 

There is a path from Benekamba to Oluo and from Kakongo to Bafundo. “Jetonniers” distribute and check vouchers at both ends of the path.

On the 7th of October at 14hr (2PM) it was hot and still in Benekamba.

Suddenly next to Debaba was a young man, Zumbe, from another isolated Balanga village, Ngombe.  He had a shotgun.  “Defend yourself,” he said.  Debaba did not react.  Then two more youths from other villages ducked under the thatch roof, Fidel and Mopepe.  Mopepe told Fidel, “This is Debaba, he is in charge of TL2 jetons (vouchers).” To Debaba he barked, “On the ground.” Debaba lay on the dirt floor of the baraza. Four others joined, for a total of seven assailants.

They tied Debaba’s elbows behind his back with nylon cord.  Fidel told his gang to flog him. Three took clubs and seriously beat Debaba.  Fidel said “cut off his ear.”  One of the seven, Bayo, took a knife and slashed off his upper left ear. 

Then they strung Debaba up so he was hanging from the roof of the veranda like a slaughtered goat. They beat him until he was unable to speak or cry out.  When they cut the cord, he fell like a sack of fresh bushmeat.

Photo of Fidel
Poor quality photo of Fidel taken by a local telephone.

A group of Djonga (Fidel’s tribal “brothers”) were calling from the side of the village. Fidel went to speak with them.

When he came back, he thrust a shotgun in Mopepe’s hands and told him to shoot Debaba.  Mopepe shot – but Debaba was not struck.  Fidel was furious – He accused Mopepe of an intentional miss. The assailants left in a dugout after dark, about 19hr, heading downstream.

Debaba 6 days after torture
Photo of Debaba – 6 days later – showing where his elbows were tied with cord and the deep bruises from the beatings.

The park has made Balanga West more prosperous.  It not only brings jobs, but it also makes bushmeat hunting more profitable as the park area is now off limits.  Forest animals abound in the remote 3000 km2 of Balanga West where the adult population is less than 1500 and scattered between widely separated villages.  Hunting is the main source of cash income.

With a voucher for your load, it is like selling certified bushmeat.

TL2 basecamp Balanga Ouest_February 2018
Project TL2’s Kakongo camp north of Benekamba (see map above).

Idris is in charge of distributing vouchers further north in Balanga West, at the Lomami crossing near the village of Kakongo.   He had shut off his Delorme (satellite communication) at 22hrs (10PM) the night of October 8th.  As the TL2-camp battery no longer holds charge from the solar panels, Idris must be careful with his rechargeable batteries.  He and the local guard/assistant, Pascal, were the only people in camp as JP was on patrol in the park with the rest of the team. 

Idris providing a Jeton or voucher at Kakongo for a bushmeat porter to cross park
In Kakongo, Idris writing and signing a voucher at his barraza after checking a porter’s load.

Idris opened the Delorme in the morning at 6hr30 on Oct 9th.  There was an SMS sent at 23hr the night before

“Be vigilant. Warn military.  Fidel and band coming north on Lomami from Benekamba.” 

He and Pascal headed up to the military camp next to the village of Kakongo.  Only four military were present as JP had taken two for patrolling the park.  All the military were sitting outside.  Idris informed the commander, Tcholilo, immediately. 

Just then another Delorme message came in from Omo, the TL2 coordinator in Kindu.

 “Why haven’t you answered?”  

Idris started to answer with the military Tutu Baba watching the process over his shoulder.  There was a sudden crackle of guns.  Tutu Baba and Idris both hit the ground.  The soldiers ran into the camp. Pascal helped Idris stumble into the wattle compound as well.  Tutu Baba lay dead on the ground.

The exchange of gunfire lasted two hours, until finally Fidel’s band retreated.

This story is not just about violence in remote areas, it is about the selfless giving of people in response to the evil of others.  If we were to just concentrate on the horror of what Fidel perpetrated, we would not understand the story or know how to rebuild. 

Idris arrived in Kindu
Idris at the end of his 2 1/2 day journey to Kindu. A military nurse helped a third of the way along and then a nurse sent by the TL2 project helped before the last third of the trip.

In Benekamba:

Even while Fidel was torturing Debaba, a group of young Djonga bushmeat buyers came forward to protest.  They addressed Fidel with respect, as a Brother.  Fidel disdainfully gave them three minutes. They said,
“We all need bushmeat for money.  We need it to get married, to go to school, to get medicine.  What you are doing will shut down vouchers.  How will we cross the park?”   
One young Djonga, Nestor Okandja, fell to his knees and clasped Fidel’s feet.  This enraged Fidel – an audacity.

As soon as Fidel and his gang left in the dugout Nestor went to Debaba where he had fallen.  Another bushmeat porter started the 60 km trek across the park to Oluo in order to send a message to Kindu.  A woman, Thérèse, who had come to buy bushmeat called to Nestor.  He carried Debaba into the house where she was staying.  Nestor had come to Benekamba to collect a bushmeat debt in order to pay for his nursing studies in Kindu.  He took a sewing needle and some thread that women use to tress their hair. He sewed Debaba’s ear back on using Lidocaine, which he had in his kit, to dull pain.  The woman heated water, washed and rubbed Debaba’s body.

surgeon's tools_women's hair-tressing thread and sewing needle
Nestor holding the “medical” equipment he used to sew on Debaba’s ear.

The evening of the 9th the TL2 dugout arrived from Katopa camp to take Debaba back to where (several days later) he could be taken by motorbike to Kindu.

Mama Théthé (Térèse) in Oluo_helped Debab
Thérèse, the bushmeat merchant who helped Debaba, a month later in Oluo.

In Kakongo: 

On the morning of the ninth, amidst gunfire, Pascal, the TL2 camp assistant pulled the body of Tutu Baba and his rifle into the soldier’s compound; he dug a shallow grave and buried him.  This is the picture he took on a poor-quality phone for the soldier’s family.

military TutuBaba killed in Kakongo shoot-out
Picture taken of Tutu Baba before his burial.

 At 10h, it was clear that Fidel had retreated.   The three military that remained, idris, and Pascal crossed the Lomami River and started the 54 km trek to Bafundo on the other side of the park (see map above).  Pascal carried the military packs. The commander often took Idris on his back when he just couldn’t continue.   The other 2 military carried the arms and were the protection.  They arrived at about 2hr (2 AM, dead of night) on the 10th of Oct.  

Back in Kakongo, one of our collaborators, Liboke, came forward and took everything that was valuable from the TL2 camp and stored it in his own village of Kondolo.  Fidel fears tradition.  Liboke, a wise man and manipulator of magic, is not someone with whom Fidel will mess.

at Mapon medical center with 12 caliber shot in body
Idris in the hospital in Kindu, several days after the attack.

Who is Fidel, where did this violent aggression come from? 

Fidel Lofeno is a sociopath and a criminal like his father, Thoms.  His father was put in Jail in 2008 for torture, murder and the rape of over 100 women.  Nevertheless, he escaped in 2011 and remains free.   Since his escape Thoms has been involved in tortures, murders and senseless insurrections.  

How do they get away with what they do? 

In all of Balanga West and many other buffer zone areas there are no Police, and no administrative representation of the government.  The only military are those the TL2 project “hired” to help with patrols until there are enough park guards.  Even if military were sent urgently from the capital of Maniema Province,Kindu, it would take at least a week for them to arrive in Balanga West.

LIBOKE with elders
Liboke, in white shirt, meeting with other elders in Balanga West.

But why don’t local people rise up against Fidel?

Neither Fidel nor his father are supported locally.  Many Balanga West chiefs have formally asked for military in their respective villages, but none come.   The villages of Balanga West, understandably, have little confidence in the provincial government and even less in the national government.  The government has built no roads (there are only footpaths), no schools, no health centers.  The social fabric is guided by complex beliefs of required loyalty and pacts between certain ethnic lines (between the Balanga and Djonga; between the Ngombe and Bakuti…).  These pacts were suited for a pre-colonial time when the strongest social units were competing clans – it was unthinkable that one would rise up against one’s own.  If there were disagreements between related people, they moved away from each other.  The superstitions of what happens if these traditional loyalties are broken protect sociopaths like Fidel and his father.

We know a bit of Fidel’s history:

Fidel first came to our attention when he tried to rob a group that came in June 2018 to help the Pygmies.

May 2019 – Fidel stole two pistols from an Ivory dealer with whom his father works. 

1 June 2019 — Fidel pursued a TL2 agent who was overseeing construction of a school in a Balanga village.  He stole all the possessions of the TL2 agent and $150 from the masons that accompanied him. The chief of the village intervened to help them flee.

4 June 2019- Fidel pursued and stole from two bushmeat merchants, wounding both, one seriously, in the process.

2 July 2019 – Fidel murdered a travelling (bicycle) merchant (with a knife) and stole all his merchandise.

July -August 2019 – Fidel held hostage two entire Balanga villages in Sankuru province, demanding money from each household.

During this period a Balanga woman was distressed to see her young daughter taken by Fidel as one of his “wives”; She pursued him into northern Sankuru province pleading that her daughter be released.  Fidel said that if she dared touch the daughter, he would cut off her head.  The woman returned home alone.

Fidel is NOT a person that is serving the local people, nor is his father Thoms. 

I cannot give the end of this story as Fidel is still on the loose, as is his father. 

But there is good news in that both Idris and Debaba are clearly on the road to recovery.  Debaba grins like a person who wrestled with death and won…  After a week in the hospital his fate was still not clear.  The doctors were worried about a swollen spleen, kidney malfunction and internal lesions.  But all has cleared.

Debaba with ear surgeon
Nestor on the left with Debaba, released from the hospital, on the right (red plaid shirt).

It was too dangerous to operate to remove the lead from Idris.  Lead from the shotgun entered his body in five different places including beside his ear.  But he has less pain now and is walking with confidence.

two victims well on the way to recovery
Debaba on left (striped shirt) and Idris on right early in December 2019.

We are trying one by one to find the people that spontaneously helped out our “jetonniers”. 

Pascal who helped at Kakongo actually suffered from a hernia after the long day and night walk to Bafundo during which he carried all the personal loads.  We met him in the TL2 camp of Katopa where he was a refugee after the Fidel attack.

We celebrated him (below) – gave him the first Lomami Park Prize ($100).   We also sent him to Kindu where he will soon have a hernia operation.

Pascal is celebrated by first Lomami Park Prize.

The year 2020 is here. The whole TL2 project is convinced that there is a way to move forward in this new year and we are doing so.  The people working together are many and we are strong.  What is right for the forest and its people is understood by almost all as a common good.

Put your Nose to the Ground and Smell those Termites!

Aardvark on the prowl
Aardvark on the prowl for ants and termites in the Lomami National Park.
Giant Pangolin chasing ants and termites
Giant Pangolin also hunting for ants and termites in the Park.

Both hunt termites and ants;
Both hunt at night;
Both hunt with their nose;
Both have a long sticky tongue;
Rather than chew,
both grind exoskeletons in a muscular belly pouch (pylorus).

BUT they are SO different.

Take the Aardvark, Orycteropus afer:
A most unusual living fossil. It is the only living species left in its genus. In fact, there is no other living animal in its family or order. Among its closest relatives are the elephant, the tree hyrax and the elephant shrew. All of them living in the forests of the Lomami National Park.

Now, take the Giant Pangolin, Smutsia gigantea:
It has closer consanguinities. There is another Smutsia, a ground pangolin living on Africa’s savannas. And in the forest, there are two others of the same family, tree pangolins, both living, like the Giant Pangolin, in the Lomami National Park.
But Pangolins, too, are most unusual animals; Pangolins are the only mammals ambling about with a body shield of scales, scales made of keratin, like our fingernails.

But there are more similarities:

Both dig, scrape, rip and burrow;
Both close their ears and nose while furiously digging;
Both are solitary;
Both give birth to single young;
To communicate,
both secrete strong-smelling substances from anal glands.

And that strong scent does get them together on important occasions:

Both can fight:
Aardvark with its powerful front hoof-like claws,
Giant Pangolin slashing its tail with razor sharp scales.

BUT both are better known for defense:
The aardvark takes off at a gallop, 25 mph, quite something for its size, a lumbering short-legged beast of up to 180 pounds;
The Pangolin rolls itself in a defiant armored ball which can be more than 70 pounds, flat scaly tail covering soft belly and head all the way to the shoulders.

aardvark and giant pangolin distribution-page-001
Both Africa-only mammals

And though they overlap in the Lomami Forest it is the Aardvark who is the most eclectic in its habitat preferences;
If the substrate allows digging, if there are ants and termites, it is potential aardvark territory throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
The giant pangolin, on the other hand, sticks closer to the equator and closer to water.
Yet in the Lomami National Park – both tramp past our camera traps at night.

Family Cruise on the Lomami

Our youngest daughter, Jojo, and her beloved, Mike, came to TL2. 

Dream trip, but not a trip they will recommend to any of their friends, even the most adventurous….

The four of us at Obenge

Here we are- well underway- in the ghost town of Obenge, only village that existed in the forest that became national park.

Jojo grew up expecting to be part of our work;

Our family has always done it that way:

In grad school: John knocked on the seminar door – Sarah needed nursing;

Sofi with jojo, mamaAmboko behind

Jojo with MamaSofi.

In the Ituri, during PhD research : Sofi, our Mbuti nanny, sat outside the botanical plots -Bekah cooing in her lap; 

During okapi captures : Jojo watched the forest from a sling over my shoulder, or John’s shoulder.

Sarah, Bekah and Jojo at Afarama

Sarah, Jojo, and Bekah at our research camp in the Ituri Forest…circa 1990.

This year Jojo came back.  Mike had to see what a couple weeks with Mom and Dad was really like.  The trip could “Make it” or “Break it”.

There were plenty of chances to “Break It” before even getting near Mom and Dad.

First problem:  The visa.  They submitted all the documents plus a money order for $325 per visa in the middle of May – two months before trip-start date.  The documents included two heavily signed and stamped letters from DR Congo (another $300),  a formal invitation, vaccination records, and a long questionnaire.

After one month with no message from the embassy, Jojo telephoned.  Four days she called repeatedly – no answer.  On the fifth day an answer: “Our means of payment have changed: Full cash payment.”  

Rather than put $650 cash in an envelope, they contacted a travel agency to drop off cash on delivery of visa (a fee, of course).  The embassy then decided the whole application process should restart through the travel agency – minimally a 10day process and, by this time, there were 5 days left before departure.

We mobilized in Congo.  Matthieu went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We discovered some of Jojo’s and Mike’s papers had been lost (thus the suggestion to restart the process).  Finally the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kinshasa instructed the embassy in Washington DC to issue the visas.  YEAH!  But this was the day before travel.  

The embassy gave the passports to FedEX.  Unfortunately two months earlier, when they paid return mail, “overnight delivery” was not even considered.  A weeping Jojo pleaded over the phone with FedEX, but too late.  

The passports arrived after their plane had taken off,  they got new tickets for $3,969.00 (!) and were reimbursed a mere $1,134.00.  

A.Passports arrive in Colorado

Passports finally did arrive WiTH visas in Colorado.

Taking into account the changed airfares and all other costs, the price-tag for those visas was $1500 each. Being a tourist on the cheap in Congo is not easy.

Finally with John on the right continent

Finally: John with Jojo and Mike on the way through Goma.

This only added to the delight of seeing them.  John met them in Kigali.  Once he was with them I felt it was real – they would make it –they did.

We were sure the travel tribulations were over.  They flew together to Kindu

We took two full days downtime in Kindu.

Hard cider on the banks of Lualaba

At Vero Beach, the bar near our Kindu office, on the Lualaba (Congo) River.

John and Mike biking in Kindu

John and Mike went biking and birding.

Then off on the  “work vacation” with Mom and Dad – not luxurious, but with neither the uncertainty nor cost of getting to Congo in the first place.  

We started with a motorbike ride for 7 hours.

Map_of trip with Jojo and Mike

With a three day pause along the whole trip took 10 days.

 

Packing the caravan in our Kindu yard

The caravan gets ready- with a town garbage pile and ancient colonial era train beyond the yard’s bamboo fence.

Sand pits on the savanna

Motorbikes first move north through a prairie / forest mix.

trail narrows down in forest

Then west through forest;

20 small bridges along the way

And at least twenty local bridges where passengers walked.

Second day was the trek… from the Chombe Kilima patrol post to Katopa patrol post on the Lomami :  we walked 37km across…..

First formidable savanna

Through Prairie;

Here we have entered into the park

Forest;

The Djodjo stream was the second crossing

Swamp And Mire.

When we reached Katopa base camp we took three days down time before the “luxury” part of the trip….

Katopa village comes down for some soccer

A bit of camp “foot” with the local ball Jojo and Mike brought …until it punctured;

every day a little jaunt on the river

Each afternoon we took a short, near-by cruise for bird watching, fishing, change of scene;

A tigerfish! almost there

The big deal was John’s haul of the tigerfish;

camp pleased with the fish

The whole camp was thrilled.

Then the trip down the river – we started packing the dugout a day ahead of time for the “luxury” cruise.

Packing the dugout for "work" and "cruise"

Actually it was a “work” cruise, patrols would be dropped off along the way.

chicken in the middle

Once underway, there was hardly lots of room, but there is always extra space for a few chickens…(see the rooster?).

Jojo and Mke play cards on board

And room for some games of cards.

Looking back in the rain

The luxury passengers were under the tarp during the rain…not so the helmsman.

Offboarded with supplies for 12 days of patrol copy

We dropped off the patrol team lead by BienFait in the late afternoon.  They were all set for twelve days in the forest with what they could carry on their backs.

On the prow in the sunset

And the first day was a bit long.  Still on the river after sunset.
We finally reached our patrol post at Kakongo well after dark.

The second day was shorter.  We camped that night at the mouth of Lomami’s tributary, Lifongo.

second dugout from the north met us at Lifongo

Here we met our northern dugout that had come upstream to meet us.  It had picked up a couple smaller poachers’ dugouts along the way (attached to side).

Before parting ways

We said good bye to the southern dugout, helmsman and crew.

one-night camp in ghost-town Obenge

The third night of our trip downstream we camped at Obenge.

Nothing is now left of either our original camp nor the small village that we originally found here.  

we used three small dugouts
we tested the Tutu tributary in small dugouts

The next day we used smaller dugouts to paddle partly up the Tutu tributary.

Maybe the diet was not luxury: lots of salt fish, fresh fish and bugali…no vegetables and the only fruit was lemons off of feral trees

Obenge camp_helping with bugali_standard fare

Jojo “helping” make bugali.

BUT it was, afterall,  a work cruise…as every trip down the Lomami must be.

Obenge discussion

With its meetings,

hastily abandoned poachers' camp

Destroyed poacher camps,

Meat left by poachers who fled

And confiscated bushmeat.

on hill at northern camp, Bangaliwa.

The final patrol post was Bangaliwa which is also now the new village of Obenge2.

After that was the small  town of Opala on the Lomami; then, a very long motorbike ride to Kisangani….we had to do it in one day, because the next day Jojo and Mike were to fly to Goma so that they could get their flight home out of Kigali the following day.

All this was well documented on Jojo’s Instagram at “HartEleanor”.

Alas, we reached Kisangani to be informed their flight to Goma was cancelled.

The travel tribulations in DR Congo were NOT over.  The critical Congo Airways  flight was cancelled; no refund, no apologoy…..just cancelled.

Mike learned in a day struggling to change tickets from Kigali, Rwanda,  to Boulder, Colorado, that it was just as cheap to buy new tickets and that internet negotiations are not always simple from the middle of Congo.  In fact it was not until they were at the airport in Kigali that they could buy new tickets.  

Mike and Jojo ended up paying three times the cost of their original round trip tickets…and that is after all the reimbursements came in.

Mike’s recommendations to intrepid travellers to DR Congo:

1/ Work through a travel agency from the beginning when dealing with the DRC embassy;

2/  Buy the top reimbursement travel insurance on your flights because most likely you will be forced to alter flights;

3/  Schedule a couple days in Kigali (or Kinshasa) on each end of the trip as Congo Airways will likely have issues and mess up planning anyway.

Relax at Obenge

And also: Enjoy it supremely when in DR Congo. Jojo and Mike did.

Coming down the Lomami in April 2019

We took three different paths and all emerged on the Lomami River in different places.  Eventually two different dugouts brought us together at the mouth of the Lifongo River.

Sheltering from the rain at our meeting at the confluence of the Lifongo River

We visited base camps and checked field operations along the way. 

We took different routes, then met on the Lomami.

John started in the north; his dugout came upstream and south towards Lifongo.  His crew included park guards and military. 

Readying John’s dugout for the trip upstream towards Lifongo.  Goats to eat in front and fuel to pass off to the southern pirogue in back.

It took them several days from Bangaliwa to Lifongo; they were checking smaller streams along the way.

They found illegal dugouts  possibly dugouts from fishermen in the park or left by maimai fleeing a failed insurgence further east.

I started in Kindu and went north by motorbike then west on foot.   I stopped to see our fish-pond project along the eastern edge of the Park’s bufferzone.  Because of village requests we have added a new set of pilot fish ponds to bring the fry closer to the villages of Bafundo and Ichuku where villagers are digging their own ponds.

One of the new pilot fish ponds at Ichuku – source of fry for the communities.

Harvesting fish from Lovis Ilunga’s pond at Kinungu.

Making salt fish to sell in the distant market of Kindu.

It took me three days to reach Kakongo

Resting on the walk from Bafundo to Kakongo and sending a satellite-delorme message to John.

burning bushmeat between bafundo and kakonog

We met hunters in the park who fled leaving their bushmeat — we burned it.

In Kakongo I found Olivier and Willy who had just attended meetings with representatives of all villages in Balanga West.   

Two well-respected Balanga who have been living in Kindu called the clans together to examine the possibility of getting legal land tenure.

Right now the only control the Balanga have over their land is traditional.   Traditional hold on lands is proving to be uncertain in the face of outside commercial interests around Kindu.  Even in Balanga West they know about these legal grabs on traditional holdings near the city – The elders are nervous.

The attendees at this meeting will now return to their clans and discuss the issues getting the opinion of others including women, young men and the infirm.

Also in Kakongo was JP, camp leader.  He showed me photos of Bonobo he had taken nearby in the Courbure part of the park.  This is an unsolved mystery.  There are very few bonobo nests in the Courbure and nests are our way of determining the size of the bonobo population.  Despite the paucity of nests, there are plenty of bonobo feeding signs and the bonobos themselves do not seem particularly frightened of people.  It is not as though they were heavily hunted.

There is still a lot we don’t understand about these bonobos.

Omo (project coordinator in the south), like me, took off from Kindu, but he went west by motorbike around the southern limit of the park.  He stopped at the basecamp of Lukunda to get the camp’s patrol results and continued on to Katopa.   After working with the camp leader, Kangese, to get Katopa patrol results, they started downstream by dugout towards Kakongo.  It took them two days, dropping off patrol teams as they moved north.

Omo and Kangese’s team found a “fisherman’s” camp that was really a hunting camp;  they had been hunting protected crocodile besides.

Bushmeat hid behind the camp.

Omo’s team also burned the bushmeat.

Omo and Kangese spent a night in Kakongo; I joined them and we continued north early the next morning to meet the northern dugouts.

Olivier did not come with us, he and his team moved inland to oversee progress on the school building, a community project we are supporting in the Balanga West village of Boyela.

Tending the bricks that are baking for school construction in Boyela.

The first school house – not quite finished – is already being used.

That evening and early we reached the mouth of the Lifongo; John’s dugout arrived a half later. All evening and the next morning we had a combined north-south meeting on the banks of the Lomami.

We met with basecamp leaders and park guards on the banks of the Lomami.

Then the dugouts separated. I changed dugouts, joining John’s as it returned back north.  We spent the night at the now-abandoned village of Obenge.  From here. patrols headed inland.  They stopped at a series of natural forest openings where we had left camera traps.

Soon we will have a camera trap video — next post.

Koko’s team recovered the cameras and sent us videos of okapi, elephant, buffalo, aardvark and bonobo all foraging in the openings.

John and I continued north to Bangaliwa, the patrol camp outside the park on its northern border.

After a night there, we continued towards Opala.  Partway we stopped to warm up lunch at the tiny village of Olemandeko.  Standing on the bank as we pulled over were three armed men – it was the core of the elephant-poaching gang led by Ranger .

Elephant poachers, Ranger on the left and Kitona on the right. John the assistant warden, Didier, and I are in the middle.

They met us as we pulled into shore.  They want to turn themselves in, join the army – but given their history, this will take a while.

We spent the night in Opala and then took motorbikes to Elengalale basecamp along with the camp leader, Bebe.  We collected patrol data, reviewed protocols and then returned to Opala.

Getting the last beam of Ilipa’s second bridge in place.

The high-point on the road Elengalale-Opala was Maurice and his crew who were finishing the second bridge at Ilapa.  Congratulations to the Mbole communities who “pulled together”.  Perhaps they will pull for Community Concessions as well.  It is still a long road to fair, resource-secure, community-owned forests around the Park.  But at least some communities will get there, I am certain.

The women took a turn pulling a sleeper (above). And finally both bridges over the Ilapa River are finished (below).