Arrested while Counting Bonobo Nests in Congo

Christian’s team was first to be arrested.  Exhausted after 12 days hiking  the forest, they sank onto benches and stools when they reached base camp in the small village of Chombe Kilima.  Almost immediately : a roar of motorbikes.  One motorbike would be a surprise in this isolated village, but there were six.  They surrounded Christian’s team.  Guns were drawn, “Don’t move.”

under house arrest
Christian’s team was immediately put under “house arrest” in Chombe Kilima.

Dino’s team came back to base camp a day later.  They, too, had been recording bonobo nests and sign of other large mammals.  The first I heard from Dino was a rapid SMS on his satellite thuraya from the trail.  “Child from Chombe Kilima met us.  Christian arrested.  Not yet there”

Next I heard was an hour later.  Dino whispered into his thuraya phone. It was broken. I didn’t understand.  He punched in another SMS.  “They let me come bathe at stream.  It is ANR.  They will search and take thuraya.  They have Christian’s thuraya, GPS, camera, compasses.”

Note the ANR is the Congo-equivalent of the FBI.

Then I heard no more from Dino until three days later.  It was an SMS from Dino’s regular cell phone; obviously he was near a major town.

“We are 5 km outside of Kindu.  I am arrested.  Police and ANR on motorcycles in front and on motorcycles behind.”

Dino was followed closely
Dino was followed closely by the representative of ANR with a police driver.

Once in Kindu, and with the intercession of the ICCN-parks service and the Department of the Environment, all charges were dropped.  But who accused us?   Here are the accusations:

1.  Mining diamonds
2.  Buying forest illegally from the village chief
(those were the official accusations)
3. Digging up graves looking for gold
(that one was so far-fetched that they had the common sense not to write it down)

Who was worried we would restrict their access to the forest?  Bushmeat traders?

seizing bushmeat and chickens alike
An ANR agent “seizing” a duiker along the road to add to the loot on the back of his motorcycle.

Dino is about to return to Chombe Kilima with GPSs and cameras and compasses.   I salute both Dino and Christian for their courage and fortitude to finish the job.

three C.ascanius
These three white-nosed monkeys were shot with ammunition the ANR sent into the forest.

But the behavior of the ANR on this mission was inexcusable.  Not because of us, because of the villagers.  They basically used our presence as an excuse to steal from agriculturalists and hunters alike.  Obviously the ANR and police don’t know the power of photographs, or had absolutely no sense of wrong-doing, as they let Dino take the pictures posted here, even as they seized bushmeat, chickens and a goat.

a full load
Bringing the “loot” back to Kindu.

What will it take to make this administration into a government for the people?


  1. Posted 2008-12-01 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    That picture of the ANR agent accepting the bribe is perhaps the most chilling of all.
    Hope such events don’t push you guys back by much.

    I did another pseudo-post on your project Terese in which I used a few of your pictures. I hope you don’t mind. You can visit it at

  2. Terese Hart
    Posted 2008-12-01 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    No problem Abhishek!

  3. Martin Singfield
    Posted 2008-12-12 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    I was wondering whether you could tell me if there any plans to allow people to visit the TL2 area? I understand that part of the area has recently been designated the Sankuru Nature Reserve, and presume that eventually these might mean that area could accommodate a number of visitors. I know that the Faunal Reserve of Lomako-Yokokala to the north of TL2 may soon be accepting visitors and wondered this would be the case for TL2.

  4. Terese Hart
    Posted 2008-12-12 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Of the three areas you mention, Lomako has the most infrastructure development for visitors. Sankuru does not yet have ICCN personnel in place and in the TL2 landscape a protected area has not yet been designated — although we hope and expect that will eventually be the case. That said, travel is not impossible to any of these areas, but it is not easy. If you have skills and time to volunteer and are willing to work “at your own risk”…

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] 29 March 09 – We slept in Tshombe Kilma, a village of the Bangengele ethnic group. This is an important village, the bonobo-rich forest is part of their traditional lands. Last year, John came to talk to them about the dangers of market hunting and he was threatened with sorcery. Dino camped here when inventorying animals, and was arrested and held for a week. […]

  2. […] supporters, civil society activists and journalists.”  The ANR also regularly arrests environmental activists and human rights defenders who draw attention to illegal mining activities.  The U.S. State […]

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