After a Long Pause

This blog was silent too long – BUT not because there is no news in and around the Lomami National Park!  

Here are a few of the big events since September:

Ranger’s band came singing to Opala for the surrender.  The white head bands denote surrender. 

White headbands and singing.

Ranger himself came later on a motorbike.

EVENT 1:   RANGER, major elephant poacher, has surrendered.  He, more than any other, was a continual threat to Lomami elephants from the beginning of this project.  This is the second large surrender and amnesty for elephant poachers.   Twenty-four ex-poachers handed in their arms in September 2020.  Five military rifles and three shotguns as well as spears and poisoned arrows were collected.   Ranger has now left the buffer zone and moved to Kisangani.

As part of the surrender, after arms were turned in, Ranger and each of the other ex-poachers, signed an agreement to no longer participate in any way in any elephant poaching :

Ranger signs a final renunciation
Ranger signs renunciation of elephant poaching.

I never saw Ranger smile until, among the photos from the surrender, is a series showing our TL2 agent, Maurice, horsing around with Ranger.  They have a special ethnic connection that makes them “noko” …or uncles:

1_Maurice_TL2_jokes with Ranger
3_continued
4_continued

The public presentation of the surrendered poachers happened at the central plaza in Opala and opened with the national anthem.  Note Ranger, not singing, inscrutable as usual in the back row:

All sing the national anthem, but not Ranger in shirt with striped sleeves.

And he remained straight faced through his presentation by the territorial administrator:

Ranger, reformed poacher, presented to the population of Opala.

Kipeleka, a pygmy, was one of the other major poachers who surrendered along with Ranger.  He is local (Ranger is not) and was warmly received by the audience:

Kipeleka and wife presented to enthusiastic population of Opala.

EVENT 2 :  BERNARD,  a ruthless criminal among the Balanga, has been captured by an army hit-squad and transferred to Kinshasa where he is undergoing interrogation.  Meanwhile on the ground three of his gang’s army rifles have been seized by the armed forces and his gang is being pursued.   Villagers now have the courage to come forward with accounts of Bernard’s atrocities.  It was not 8 rapes as we had previously determined, but at least 125 rapes (reported to the local NGO, AIDER).  Not one live burial but at least two live burials, one of which was recorded on telephone video. And at least one case of vengeance killing and dismemberment along with multiple cases of torture and robbery.  Bernard himself is under 25 years of age.  Hard to fathom, but we and the villages thank the army. Whole villages had fled and two of our patrol posts had been destroyed and patrols in part of the park suspended the first 6 months of 2020.  

Oct 2019 Victim of Bernard in local dispensary:

Kelisse, a victim of Bernard in Dingi dispensary
Kelisse in Dingi dispensary.

Kelisse was whipped and tortured by Bernard and his band.  Kelisse’s mother in law and his wife were raped; his wife lost her pregnancy in consequence.  What was Kelisse’s sin in Bernard’s estimation?  He refused to pay a fine that Bernard demanded because, supposedly, Kelisse admitted he was glad the military were pursuing Bernard. 

Bernard captured and tortured three different delegations that the local government sent to negotiate his surrender.  When he did surrender it was more a show of force.  He released the government delegations, turned in a few weapons, and brought an army of men and boys to show his strength in February 2020:

The person in the tall genet skin head dress is Osseon, also being pursued for crimes against humanity. Bernard is the second to speak.

Bernard was finally captured in October 2020.

Bernard captured and in Kindu
Bernard in Kindu after capture

One military was shot and killed by Bernard’s brother during the capture.  

Bernard_climbing in airplane
Bernard boarding plane for Kinshasa

Bernard was sent to Kinshasa where he is currently being questioned.  The military colonel who is his body guard was also responsible for his capture.

EVENT 3:  As to our own activities: John is pushing ahead with the 4-year elephant census.  It has been partially completed, but his dugout and the patrollers were met with gunfire, not once, but 6 times in 2020.  The attackers are the Mai-Mai militia who refused to surrender in MitukuThoms’s gang is among them.  The military are now conducting a sweep.

A "combat patrol" doing a sweep of the park because of MaiMai presence
Military leave for security sweep along the Lomami.

A military sweep in the northern park means using the Lomami. There are no roads in or near the park and the Mai-Mai are using the park as refuge.  This is a sweep through wilderness, not something the military do very often.

map showing where patrols met gunfire in 2020
Map of northern Lomami National Park showing 2020 security problems.

The map above shows attacks during 2020 of militia elements fleeing increased law and order of the buffer zone.  The difficulty in accessibility of the north is clear.  It is critical that the sweeps continue to maintain the safety of the elephants.  Elephant poaching, unlike small mammal poaching, requires a high level of organization and a greater support chain.  The goal of the park patrols is to assure that elephant poachers feel the law on their backs such that they have no time to organize.

Below is a camera trap video that catches the reality of the small groups that associate in the north forming a population of over 750 elephants (assessment of 2016):

Near Losekola camp in the northern Lomami National Park.

EVENT 4:  In Kinshasa we are making progress towards taking a more direct role in management for the Lomami National Park.  This means the ability to train guards and in general a more coordinated FZS- ICCN effort to protect the park thoroughly and to international standards.   .

the proect meets with ICCN to iron out details
Working in Kinshasa, November 2020, to harmonize a near-final draft of the contract.

Hard to find an inspiring picture to put here – because the activities involved are meetings, business dinners, trans-continental zooms. Maybe soon there will be a photo of final signature or of us raising our glasses afterwards.

I will put out more posts in December.  Thank you for checking in on progress.  Although I have been back in Congo for more than a month now, the backlog continues to make itself felt.  More soon.

4 Comments

  1. Posted 2020-11-26 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for the gripping reportage on these eventful past couple months. Sounds like the threat level to elephants and personnel is diminished but there is still a long way to go. Good luck with your meetings and negotiations on park management & security. I wish you and John a happy Thanksgiving and hope you and your team remain safe & healthy!

  2. Miguel
    Posted 2020-11-26 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    Dear Therese,

    I was really missing your colorful posts. Absolutely outstanding videos|images|narrative. Your posts are never boring.

    I do hope that security improves with the latest developments. And stay safe because the Covid virus is still out there.

  3. Daniel Alempijevic
    Posted 2020-11-27 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Hi Terese,
    I have been eager to read what has been going on in LNP. Looks like some real atrocities are coming to light and I hope these efforts lead to a peaceful 2021 both for people and elephants. It is incredible to see ranger’s truce documented.I look forward to hearing more about FZS’ management role in LNP. Thank you for sharing this!

  4. Roger Peet
    Posted 2020-12-02 at 3:49 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the update Terese! Great to see these photos of Maurice connecting with Ranger. Hope all are well!

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