Dead: One Bonobo and One Man

Bonobos of the Lomami National Park in a forest clearing called edo73

The bonobo was killed first.

It was 2018, on November 18th.  A patrol team, led by Elias Omana, was on surveillance in a forested part of the Lomami National Park near a point we call KK/4.   There was a scuffle of leaves.  Poachers were near.  The surveillance team ran, but the poachers were gone…they had dropped their loads.  One contained smoked bonobo.  One of the three poachers was seen enough to recognize him as someone from ChombeKilima.  But Elias did not know his name. 

2008_Burning bonobo bushmeat
Amboko, an IMU Leader, burns the bonobo bushmeat back in Katopa camp.

The bonobo was brought back to Katopa camp where it was burned.  We usually burn confiscated bushmeat right there in the forest to avoid accusations of reselling it for profit.  But the bonobo came back to camp.  A bonobo is different.  The hunter broke two laws: (1) hunting in the park and (2) killing a totally protected species.  Besides, the Katopa teams have all been involved in bonobo studies.  These hacked and singed arms and legs might have belonged to an individual they observed and one whose nest they counted again and again.

It was important to know who killed the bonobo and to hold him accountable.  Not easy with little evidence.

Informers from Chombe Kilima asked what hunters returned to the village soon after November 18th.   The probable hunter was Tonda Djeha, a hunter from Chombe Kilima, whose porters had come out of the forest on the 19th.  Tonda was caught hunting in the Park more than once before.

La maison de Junoir  au village Lokale copy
Junior, Tonda’s porter, in front of his small house in Lokale.

Of the two porters, one was Tonda’s son.  He would not be a good source of information.  The other, Junior, lived on the road around the south of the park.

Junior with his new wife at the in-laws house.

Junior, is young, newly married, but living with the in-laws.  He wants a better house of his own, which is why he was working for Tonda.  Junior knew that Bonobos were especially protected and did not tell our workers anything, but eventually an informer got a recording on his phone of Junior saying that Tonda had killed a bonobo in the Park when he was the porter.  This was enough proof to arrest Tonda.

But where was Tonda? A plainclothes policeman went to Chombe Kilima to make the arrest, but Tonda had fled the village through the forest.  He now moves between several villages. For two years he has avoided arrest.

Tonda with daughter_Chombe Kilima
Tonda in ChombeKilima with his daughter before he was on the run.

Chombe Kilima is a village of hunters.  They know hunting in the Park is forbidden and they know that bonobos are protected.  Early on we burned a hunter’s bonobo bushmeat in the center of the village.  Bonobo protection is one of TL2’s main village messages,  BUT no neighbor would turn Tonda in for hunting Bonobo in the park…it still is considered a minor misdemeanor, though dangerous because of TL2 and the Park guards.  

2019 meeting of reconciliation between two clans at Makoka
Tonda did show up at this meeting of two clans a couple months ago, but quickly disappeared afterwards. He is in the brown jacket, standing on the right.

But killing a person is different.  Now Tonda is in jail.

Nearly two years later, December 2020, Tonda was again hunting in the park.  This time with one other shotgun hunter and six porters, one of whom Osenga Alongo was his son in law.  He and Alongo took off to hunt at night by headlamp.  The others stayed in camp. 

In the early morning Tonda came back alone with a small duiker in his basket.  He told the porters to quickly prepare food so that they could return to Chombe Kilima.  They asked where Alongo was.  Tonda said  “Park guards ambushed us.  We ran in different directions but Alongo knows the forest, we will find him back in Chombe Kilima.”  Even then there seemed something wrong because, if ambushed, you drop all baskets and backpacks. You just run to save yourself. But Tonda insisted.

It was several days later that the other shotgun hunter came to report his concern to the FZS team at ChombeKilima.  Tonda had come back to the village and taken off immediately for the town of Kindu.  Alongo never showed up, not in Chombe Kilima and not in his own village of Kakungu.    The local chief went to Kakungu to see what he could find out.  Tonda had stopped at his in-laws on his way to Kindu. He told them – Alongo is in Chombe Kilima, he will be coming soon by bicycle.  Tonda continued by motorcycle to Kindu.  

These villagers are hunters.  Hunting at night with head lamps is dangerous.  Everything pointed to an accidental killing of Alongo by his father-in-law, Tonda.  Alongo’s family was furious.

When he was arrested in Kindu, Tonda had already bought a boat ticket to Ubundu.  Now he is in jail.  

Tonda's house burned by villagers
Tonda’s house was burned by his son in law’s family.

We helped gather the information, and we will help prosecute, but it was villagers themselves that put Tonda in jail.

Whatever happens next will likely be long and slow.  The dead bonobo will be a bit player, or perhaps be totally sidelined as irrelevant evidence.  Family loyalties and kin outrage will continue to fester and explode.

One Comment

  1. Daniel Alempijevic
    Posted 2021-02-11 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    I am sorry to hear about Alongo’s death. Glad to see the patrol teams continue to have an active presence in the forest.

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