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).

One Comment

  1. Daniel Alempijevic
    Posted 2019-05-24 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    Nice to see so many projects coming together: the tilapia ponds, school house and bridge repair. Glad to see JP Kapale, and congrats on that bonobo shot. Anticipating results of the camera trap videos, another Okapi, how exciting! Thank you for highlighting poacher activity during your activities, it is so important to maintain an active presence on the ground to enforce protection. Great work!

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