Hope Follows Terror in the Ituri

young girls at Kinu
Young pygmy girls pounding cassava (photo Kim Gjerstad).

In 2010 a cry of alarm went out to local government officials, military authorities, and traditional chiefs:

“We are losing our elephants; Poachers slaughter elephants, terrorize villagers and subjugate pygmies. The military stationed around the Okapi Reserve supply poachers with arms and ammunition.”

The letters were sent by the head warden on behalf of all the people struggling to save this World Heritage Site. He gave the names of the main poaching gangs. The top leaders included:
Morgan Sadala in the south of the Reserve;
Masimango or Maître in the western Reserve.

Maître was captured earlier
Maître when captured more than five years ago. He was soon released after being transferred to government justice in Bunia (photo ICCN).

By terrorizing the villages and pygmy camps the criminals make themselves lords of the forest. The warden reported that in the two weeks before his letters, Pygmy women were raped in the gardens behind the village, Badengaido, and volleys of rifle shots were fired pre-dawn to intimidate villagers in Adusa, Molokay and Seti.

The urgent call for help went unanswered. Neither the government nor top miliatry authorities were motivated to enforce law and order.

Two years later the local army contingents are still supplying the poaching gangs with guns, means of communication, and transport.

Two years later (three weeks ago) one of these poachers, Morgan, attacked the Okapi station, killed seven people and shot all the captive okapi that were the Reserve’s totemic symbol since it’s creation.

Morgan is still on the loose, still in the forest, still terrorizing villagers.

But there is some good news:

Maitre captured
Maître, recently arrested with ivory, just west of the Reserve (photo Uvonn Unega).

Maître, a second, equally infamous and iniquitous poacher was arrested early this week while carrying ivory to Kisangani. A young army captain, newly assigned to his Ituri post in Niania, made the arrest.
We (the people of the Ituri Forest, the people who support the Okapi Reserve, the people who work for the Okapi Reserve) thank this captain for his sense of duty to the law he is assigned to uphold.

But we also beg that Maître not be immediately released, as has happened before, to return to the Ituri as an even more hardened criminal.

And there is more good news:
Yesterday a second arrest was made in another town close to the Reserve, Mambasa. The unidentified poacher was carrying 30 elephant tails. Thirty elephants are dead. He is in custody with Maître for trial and judgement in the regional center, Bunia.

Perhaps the best news is that the population is rising up. In Mambasa there was a citizen’s march demanding security. And in the RFO the staff and guards are returning determined to do what the army hasn’t done – capture Morgan. They need arms and equipment. But I am confident that the pursuit will happen and it will be successful.

UPDATE early August:

BAD NEWS: Yes, Maître was released…almost immediately on arrival in Bunia.  This report from several separate sources.  See comment below.

GOOD NEWS -maybe:  Morgan has been captured.  This from one source and waiting for confirmation.

Later — CONFUSION: It seems Morgan was NOT captured by the Congolese army but rather by a rival rebel group that is now holding him for a ransom of 10,000 USD. Waiting for clarity



  1. Posted 2012-07-21 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Joel Masselink
    Posted 2012-07-25 at 3:25 am | Permalink

    What is the relationship between Maitre & Morgan? Do you know if they work together ever? I wonder who supports Maitre?

  3. Joel Masselink
    Posted 2012-08-01 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Its been confirmed that Maitre has been released.

  4. Mirko
    Posted 2012-08-06 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    How on earth someone like Maitre can be arrested 2 times in the last 5 years and be released out immediately after being transferred to government justice in Bunia?!?!?!?!
    I’m wondering why rangers or whoever is interested in clearing up this corrupted world should continue to risk their own life for nothing….

  5. Terese Hart
    Posted 2012-08-06 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    This is the critical question. There is no national institution (justice, security….) that can be relied on. We must now rethink our protected areas in terms of close-to-the-ground alliances. It is a holding pattern, but it can be effective. The local institutions can be strengthened and will be of long-term importance.

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