BUSHMEAT 3 : The History of Hunting in TL2

Traditional hunting was not more gentle than hunting today. A large mammal, like an okapi, falling on spears sticking straight up in a pit, is not gentle.
covering pit
These men are covering a pit dug along a narrow animal trail.

But traditional hunting does NOT empty the forest. Bushmeat hunting is different, it scours ever larger areas of forest. Traditional hunting was local: it happened in nearby forest that was just as much home as the village, and, in the past, was set in a vast matrix of virgin forest containing un-threatened animals.

Traditional weapons were arrows, perhaps poison tipped, and spears. The inner bark of the Kusa liana (Manniophyton fulvum) rolled into a narrow tensile line and knotted into a net used in communal hunts. Pits were dug deep into the forest floor, covered and camouflaged. Ingenious snare traps were made of flexible poles and lianas.
1982 on hunt
John (20 years ago) inspecting a Red River Hog killed with a spear.

All of these methods of hunting still exist but it is the new techniques and the new scale that empty the forest.

Snares made with wire or nylon line can wipe a forest clean of animals. When made with traditional fiber rope, snares rot in the rain, also they can not withstand the strength of a large struggling animal. Wire and nylon can.
Zsnare_1©Copyright_Reto Kuster_E-Mail kuster.reto@gmx.net
A blue duiker caught in a nylon snare, ©Copyright_Reto Kuster

Where did the wire and nylon come from, when did they infiltrate the forest? During the colonial era the offal of advancing modern society penetrated the Congo. The wire filaments of truck tires abandoned behind the mission station were perfect for snaring small animals. And the winches on land-rovers, or the drags from logging rigs provided cable to untwist and re-form into a noose that could hold a forest pig or okapi.

These new traps were so efficient the forest around the village grew silent and the hunting radius had to move farther and farther from the village.

Occasionally a villager owned a 12 caliber rifle, often a home-assembled version, BUT truly long distance hunting for big game came with weapons of war.

This was no longer villagers hunting for subsistence or to sell meat for a little cash to buy the family a round of new clothes. No. This was military and ex-military seeking ivory to fill the coffers of military officers in large cities far away. Their weapons of war could destroy a herd of elephant.

Elephant_03©Copyright_Reto Kuster_E-Mail kuster.reto@gmx.net
Elephant family at the kind of forest opening (mineral lick) where they are frequently hunted. ©Copyright_Reto Kuster

The origin of these weapons is a bloody footnote in the long war that has ravaged Congo and that drags on in the Virungas. This part of the war never made international news. Along TL2’s southern savanna border war struck in 2001 when the Rwandan backed RCD-Goma streamed towards Kinshasa to attack the current president’s father, Laurent Kabila. National troops and local families fled into the forest; abandoned AK-47s made their way north, down the Lomami, and are now killing the remaining elephants along the TuTu River.
abandoned arms
Weapons abandoned by troops as they fled into the forest

Also in 2001, taking a forest route, Tutsi-backed RCD chased the Hutu Interahamwe deep into the TL2 landscape. A well-armed Colonel Jado of the RCD, originally from south of Ubundu, fomented ancient racial strife between the Banyamituku and the Balengola. There was massacre and rape. A small aside perhaps, but five years later the Balengola could count among their losses the extermination of all their elephants.
Eventually we hope we can put this map in the sidebar, but until then, here it is inside the post to help orientation

The pursued Rwandan Interahamwe chose the most remote area in which to take refuge. For three years, 2001-2003, Obenge was their base. Although all Interahamwe had left, it is no surprise that Ashley arrived in Obenge last year to find mainly hunters from distant regions. Local inhabitants scattered from Obenge years earlier. Their forest was invaded, armed, and, even now, slowly losing its rarest animals.

The memories are raw. As Ashley went up the Lomami for the first time in July and August 2007, the sound of the motor on his dugout sent whole villages scattering into the forest. Only hours later people would filter back in ones and twos. Men first.
TL foret, here 2 children are left behind when the rest of the camp fled upon seeing our team arrive at the camp they think we are military
One of the men on Ashley’s team comforts two children left in a hunting camp as everyone else fled helter-skelter into the forest, convinced that Ashley’s team were military come to commit atrocities.

Strange how this recent history of TL2 is just as bloody and almost as obscure as the history of forest war more than a century earlier.


  1. Posted 2008-02-26 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

    I really struggle with these posts. I keep thinking of Thoreau’s words: ““I have no doubt that it is part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave off eating animals.”

    How shocked he would be to know that we’re going to cause the extinction of every species on this planet – for the sake of taste.


  2. Terese Hart
    Posted 2008-02-26 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

    Yes, this is not a pleasant subject. But I feel like we have to face it straight on to be able to make a difference. I personally feel that a combination of enough, well-monitored protected areas as well as enforced hunting seasons are the two main ways, and doable ways, to make a difference. Both would be accepted locally and it would be possible to build a strong constituency locally. It IS possible to make a difference I am certain.

  3. W. Peters
    Posted 2008-02-26 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

    These horrible shots make me think of the fate of the passenger pigeon–once so plentiful the sky was black with there numbers. Hundreds of Thousands were killed to supply the taste for pigeon in the cities..How do you change man’s need for meat? especially when it involves taste preference..We are eating our way through every species on this planet–we could develope a taste for invasive species, we may have to–or eat only cultivated plants…I applaud you and John and Ashley’s efforts to save what you can in central Africa–and I hope you can make a difference… Petie

  4. Theresa Siskind St Petersburg FL
    Posted 2008-02-27 at 2:48 am | Permalink

    Terese, would the local people go along with the proposed hunting seasons? What incentives need to be in place for them to abide by these regulations?

  5. Theresa Siskind St Petersburg FL
    Posted 2008-02-27 at 2:54 am | Permalink

    Sorry, I forgot to acknowlege you said both proposals would be accepted, but I’m having a difficult time understanding how these people will make this transition…and to what? Sustainable farming?

  6. Posted 2008-02-27 at 3:07 am | Permalink

    W. Peters, humans do not need animal flesh to survive. There are many of us who are quite healthy and thrive on a plant-based diet. Like you said, it’s a preference. BTW, WE are the invasive species on this planet …


  7. Theresa Siskind St Petersburg FL
    Posted 2008-02-27 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    By the way, I think the map is a great idea (I just enlarged it on my computer).

  8. Wanda, Atlanta
    Posted 2008-02-27 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    I thank Wildlife Direct and it’s people who “fight the fight” and can say even if we lose many species eventually and I sometimes believe we will – these people can say without doubt they did all they could do and more – MAN the most horrible beast of all in my opinion but HE will not be driven from this earth unfortunately!

  9. Theresa Siskind St Petersburg FL
    Posted 2008-02-27 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    Yes Wanda, the human race is very arrogant yet it is very unhappy as well. Why else would it be plagued with obesity, alcoholism, ilicit drug use, teen pregnancies, crime and the like. Because man has a disconnect with nature and its beauty. Material posessions can never replace earth’s treasures, never!

  10. John Hart
    Posted 2008-02-28 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Just a comment on what local people can accept or not in terms of hunting controls. Most of the hunting that threatens large and endangered species such as elephants, bonobo and okapi is conducted as Terese points out by a small group of professional hunters, often with links to national police or military. We are most concerned about putting an end to this hunting, which often means we need to lobby and pressure individuals at a high level in the administration. Locally-based hunters have accepted closed seasons and controls on gear in the past. Our surveys confirm they will accept that now, but this has to come with effective enforcement…and Congo does not yet have a system of game wardens. Protected areas, including those with zoned areas for human use, including subsistence hunting, offer the best legal means to control the impact of hunting, but these must have paid and trained staff. Our efforts are focused on eliminating the most threatening hunting practices and developing institutional and educational basis for controlling subsistence hunting. It is possible to make a difference for wildlife, even in the context of current Congolese culture and economy. The future depends upon this. John Hart

  11. W. Peters
    Posted 2008-02-28 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

    I think you present your case very clearly John and I hope DRC will eventually be able to support your efforts at controlled conservation. Petie

  12. Paula
    Posted 2008-03-12 at 5:24 am | Permalink

    These posts are amazing – such a rich source of information. John, how did your meetings in DC go? Can we at WildlifeDirect do something to help publicize your news?

One Trackback

  1. […] In some of DR Congo’s most remote forest we are witnessing a cascading clean-out of large wildlife.  It is like watching a cloud-shadow creep over the forest; where it passes, it leaves an invisible, permanent absence.  The edge is pushed forward by an advancing web of hunter’s paths crisscrossed with long snare lines, a litter of shotgun cartridges, and small leaf-shack hunting camps. (https://www.bonoboincongo.com/2008/02/26/bushmeat-3-the-history-of-hunting-in-tl2/) […]

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