Kisangani, Can It Bring Law to Out-Law Lomami?

There is no question, our main message to the governor, the general, and all provincial authorities in Kisangani: COLONEL TOM MUST BE STOPPED. He is master of elephant poaching and dominates bushmeat trade. Colonel Tom himself told Ashley, with a wave of his hand, “the forest is mine”.

Mai Mai chief in foreground with leopard skin
Colonel Tom, maimai leader, holding court near Opala

Pockets of anarchy in DRCongo are of two types:

  1. In the east, bandits like Nkunda head armies of guerillas, are backed by bank accounts in Rwanda, combat ethnic rivals, and threaten the last populations of Congo’s gorillas.
  2. Dead center, bandits like Colonel Tom are on their own turf, terrorize neighbors, poach for ivory and turn wildlife to bushmeat in Congo’s unprotected forest core.

Of the latter type of bandit, Colonel Tom is top of the wanted list.

LL forest angolan pied colobus
Barter for Bushmeat is the main currency of exchange south of Opala.

Ashley came to Kisangani by dugout. He shot the last 270 kilometers down the Lomami from Opala and then pushed the last 120 km up the Congo to the same small port he left two and half months earlier. I flew Bravo airlines from Kinshasa to Kisangani.

Incredible frontier town. In its backyard markets, Kisangani handles diamonds, bushmeat and any other natural resource pulled from the forest or dug from the earth. This is where Ashley and I conferred and this is where we worked with a first-rate collaborator, DP Malengani of Congo’s conservation institute (ICCN).

terese and Ashley in Kisangani
Terese and Ashley. Happy to see each other again.
Ashley and Terese
Hours later and deep into it

Malingane described the new government. “Will we be heard “, we asked?

The old general ,Malingane explained, was a Maimai during the rebellion, like Colonel Tom himself. “That General has just been ousted”, he told us. The new General, J-C KIFWA, must now control a third of the country.

We saw General Kifwa the first day. He did not mince words. “First the government will try dialogue.” But, the General stated flatly, pinning us with an unwavering stare, “whether Colonel Tom listens or not, Colonel Tom will be removed.”

general Kifwa
The General met us on our first full day in Kisangani.

The new administration was equally committed. All are young: the new governor, vice-governor, the provincial environmental officer, the woman who is territorial administrator of Opala. This junior government takes authority over an enormous province where schools don’t function and hospitals are without medicine and doctors.

charge de l'environnement provinciale
DP Malingane (on left) and Terese with the Provincial Environmental Officer
Ashley with Madame the Administrateur de Territoire Opala
Madame the Territorial Administrator from Opala meeting with Ashley and the two Team leaders, Maurice (glasses) and Bernard

They have heard us. What remains to be seen is action. Malingane remains in Kisangani. He will update us, and we will update this blog.


  1. Posted 2007-09-05 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    Good update. I hope General Kifwa is successful in removing Colonel Tom. When he’s done there, think you can convince him to get rid of Laurent Nkunda?

    Be safe,

  2. Christine
    Posted 2007-09-05 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    Sounds like perhaps progress may be on its way, let’s hope this new government is the right answer…good luck Terese and Ashley. And Sheryl, wouyldn’t it be nice if there were no more L. Nkunda and others like him!

  3. Posted 2007-09-05 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    This is Terese. Actually the General Kifwa just sent troops several days ago to combat Laurent Nkunda…Ashley watched thousands march to the Kisangani airport. Still waiting to tell the success story though. Sigh.

  4. Lisa
    Posted 2007-09-05 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    Good work guys. Keep up the good work. You know, on some level I feel somewhat guilty for wanting the people of Africa to stop doing what they’ve probably done for thousands of years (live off the land). It’s disturbing to me to see pictures of leopard skins and dead monkeys being carried like a brief case, but this is the way in Africa. Who am I, a housewife and mother living in the United States to expect these people to stop living this way? I guess the world is becoming a much, much smaller place and we all must adjust accordingly. Wildlife is disappearing faster and faster and that’s only one of the reasons why these pictures are so disturbing to me. Lisa, California

  5. Christine
    Posted 2007-09-05 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    Terese — I have actaully had thoughts similar to Lisa’s…living in a country (US) where there is no predominant demand to hunt food in order to eat, it is hard sometimes to understand that there are people who need to hunt to survive. My question then, is where are the lines between the basic neccessities for the people of the Congo (food, heat (i.e. the charcoal production issue) and just downright inhumane actions? For example, it appears from these blogs that the act of killing seven gorillas in July was one of pure maliciousness, meant, at least partially, to send a message about inhibiting the charcoal trade. I am very interested in your thoughts about this.

  6. Posted 2007-09-05 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

    Terese again. Serious thoughts and not easy questions.
    The easiest to decry are the extremes. Gorillas are rarely now killed for reasons other than to make a political statement. Elephants are almost always killed for ivory and often the meat is left to rot where the animal falls.
    A little more difficult to characterize is commercial hunting but the difference between commercial hunting and subsistance hunting is an important one to make. Commercial hunting often includes huge numbers of animals acquired by one or several buyers who take them to resell elsewhere. When commercial hunting becomes the way of life of numerous people — wildlife is on its way out.
    When I am not feeling particularly optimistic I say that protected areas that are well protected is what is needed and then all of the rest of the forest will just have greatly reduced wildlife, and large animals will disappear from most areas. This is afterall more or less the situation in America. Two important differences: in most parks here there is NOT effective protection yet and the wildlife is far more diverse here than in the States with some large mammals that are found no where else (inlcuding bonobo and okapi).
    But difficult quesitons.

    Just an added note: John and I brought our kids up mainly in Congo — in the Ituri Forest. When they were little bushmeat — mainly forest antelope — was our main staple. But as they grew older we watched a low population grow larger and hunting become more and more commercial. Our own habits began to seem in opposition to what we were working towards although our policy (buy only form pygmies what they hunting themselves) seemed fairly sound. Now when we return to the Ituri we mainly eat chicken and manioc greens !
    Long commment!

  7. Lisa
    Posted 2007-09-05 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Terese. It is very interesting to read your thoughts on this subject. What would the reason for killing the leopard be? Is that a form of bushmeat or is it simply for the skin and if so, can leopard skin really bring so much money that it’s life is worth it? Lisa, California

  8. Posted 2007-09-05 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    Hey Lisa, I’m going to guess the leopard was killed for its pelt. In SE Asia the clouded leopard population is critically endangered – because of poaching. The cloudeds are killed for their beautiful pelts, their incredibly huge canines (the largest canines in relation to head size of any cat species), and their meat. It’s sold in upscale Asian restaurants to rich people. Because of these practices the Taiwanese subspecies is extinct. The pelts are sold on black markets in Thailand and Borneo for about $100. To you and me, that’s a damned cheap price for the extinction of a species, but for the average Thai worker that’s a year’s wages.

    But that doesn’t make it right.

    Just my .02, your mileage may vary.


  9. Lisa
    Posted 2007-09-06 at 12:57 am | Permalink

    Thanks for your insight Sheryl. It’s all so crazy…..eating endangered animals….to their extinction. I just don’t get it, even a little bit. And it always seems to be in the “Asian” markets that this kind of stuff is happening. I hope there is some kind of educational program in place in the Asian communities that teaches them what is exactly happening to the wildlife of the world. I know they have their ancient beliefs and all, but honeslty. Lisa, California

  10. Christine
    Posted 2007-09-06 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Terese — thank you so much for your thoughful comments, Sheryl too. Conservation issues are so complex and challenging, made more so by the voltile nature of the politics of your region. It is nice to know that so many people are committed to change despite how difficult that change may be to effectuate…participating in this blog has made me think a lot about my own role in the world…Thank you so much for the inspiration you provide to many of us every day.

  11. Wanda
    Posted 2007-09-06 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t hunting based on needs and supply as in the indians needed buffalo to live and there were millions to kill but we have a “short/endangered supplies” and they do not NEED to eat these animals — to me that adds up to STOP HUNTING – YOU DON’T NEED IT TO LIVE AND THERE IS NO BIG SUPPLY — UNFORTUNATELY THAT LEAVES THE $ VALUE IN IT AND THAT IS THE ROOT OF ALL THE EVIL!

  12. Posted 2007-09-07 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    Terese: yes… it is the $$ value in city markets that pushes the bushmeat commerce. No question.

  13. michael
    Posted 2007-09-08 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    hello mister colonel tom,

    how are you? i think not so good. thousands of eyes all over the world have seen you.
    you are a man of the past. in the future forests teeming with live will
    bring more money than the tusks of the
    last elephants.

  14. Terese
    Posted 2007-09-09 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    and importantly the eyes of Kisangani are on him. Including the general and the top administration. We are all standby and you will be informed.

  15. Christina/San Diego,CA
    Posted 2007-10-07 at 6:08 am | Permalink

    Hey Lisa, No kidding. You would think the wealthy people eating the clouded leopards would be educated enough to realize they are contributing to their decline. Who is going to save the clouded leopards from their appetites?

4 Trackbacks

  1. […] forests – and all the players, including companies. It ties up well with some of the posts on Ash Vosper’s blog about the poaching of elephants, bonobos, and other wildlife near Kisangani in eastern DRC. It came […]

  2. […] the river in the land of the Mbole peoples. The Mbole gained little and maintain somber memories. Colonel Tom is Mbole as is the current Territorial Administrator from Opala. Ivory, rubber and copal were essential riches for King Leopold II and they were plentiful along the […]

  3. […] the river in the land of the Mbole peoples. The Mbole gained little and maintain somber memories. Colonel Tom is Mbole as is the current Territorial Administrator from Opala. Ivory, rubber and copal were essential riches for King Leopold II and they were plentiful along the […]

  4. […] the river in the land of the Mbole peoples. The Mbole gained little and maintain somber memories. Colonel Tom is Mbole as is the current Territorial Administrator from Opala. Ivory, rubber and copal were essential riches for King Leopold II and they were plentiful along the […]

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