Protect Animals by Helping Hunters

In Lomami National Park we help hunters:

all ages transport bushmeat
Young and old will porter bushmeat across the park.

We build metal-roofed shelters for them to sleep under when they cross the park;
We clear the paths through the park they use to carry bushmeat to market;
We give them vouchers so they will not be arrested by surveillance patrols.

WHY?

Because:  all the cultures around the southern park have economies based on hunting, and
Because:  hunting is the biggest threat to the park. 

SHELTER FOR HUNTERS
Putting up a shelter along a footpath through the Lomami National Park.

THEREFORE, the only people who can reduce the threat are Hunters themselves.  
By recognizing legal hunting, we win greater support against illegal hunting.

What is legal hunting? 
All hunting outside the park is legal;
except – it is illegal to hunt totally protected species (elephant, bonobo, pangolin…..),
except – it is also illegal to hunt during the closed season.

The hunters on the west side of the park are mostly legal.  They have a huge uninhabited forest to hunt (3000 km2 with only a small population concentrated along a couple foot paths).  The Lomami River separates them from the park, BUT to sell their bushmeat at the closest bushmeat market– Kindu – the fastest, least expensive route is to backload the bushmeat across the park.  

The hunters on the east side of the park are closer to the market.  They are also much more numerous, living in more frequent villages, clustered along roads and paths that motorbikes can travel.  The local eastern hunters are also joined by more outside hunters, coming from different provinces and ethnic groups.

hunting cultures surround the southern part of park
The Balanga and Bangengele ethnic groups around the southern portion of the park have a hunting tradition. The pressure on the park itself is greatest in the east where there are more hunters and the markets are closer.

Not surprisingly, it is in the east where there is the greatest threat from hunters clandestinely crossing into the park to hunt.

burning bushmeat between bafundo and kakonog
Burning bushmeat in the park after ambushing hunters coming from a hunting camp.

Surveillance patrols arrest these poachers in the park and burn their bushmeat. 

hunting camp raid in park
Preparing to burn bushmeat found in this hunting camp in the park.

But what about people walking their bushmeat from the west side to the east side?  How to tell them apart?  How do we make sure they don’t stop to hunt along the way?

Courbure encounters in and around park

This above map of early surveillance in the courbure sector of the Lomami Park showed the problem.  Who was legal and who was illegal?  Were they just carrying bushmeat caught outside the park from Kakongo to Bafundo on the footpath or did they come from a hunting camp hidden in the park?

We did not want to alienate the whole western section of the buffer zone as their meat crossed the park, but how could we be sure that they had not actually been hunting in the park?

two more bushmeat transporters
Crossing the park with bushmeat from the western forests to the eastern markets.

In 2015 we started an experiment to “certify” bushmeat by giving bushmeat transporters a voucher, or “jeton” that listed all the animals they carried when they left the west to cross the park.  They had only two days to cross from one of the western villages, Polepole, Benekamba or Kakongo, to the nearest village east of the park, Bafundo or Oluo, where the “jeton” would again be checked against the load.  Depending on the path it was a walk of 45 to 55 km. 

developing method 2015 in Bafundo
We worked with the parks service (ICCN) and the local population to come up with a system.

The voucher stations were to be manned by one person from the TL2 project, one ICCN person and one villager assigned by the chief. 

Kakongo2
At the Kakongo jeton station.

We expected a grudging acceptance by the western populations. 

BUT INSTEAD, JETONS got enthusiastic approval.  We had given them back a lifeline that could have been cut off.  And we had made them partners in the protection of the park.

Talking with hunters at a jeton station. Omo (notebook in hand) is the leader of the jeton process.

The low point was in October 2019 when the Mai-Mai, Fidel, attacked two of our jetonniers (voucher distributors).   In Benekamba, Debaba was pummeled to near-death; in Kakongo Idris was shot but survived.  The military beside him was shot dead.

We nearly dropped the process – potential non-local “jetonniers” were afraid.   No one wanted to move into the lawless villages.   But then Locals, themselves, stepped up, we were amazed at the risks they took to keep “jetons” going.

Alain Basila, local jetonnier at Benekamba said “hunting is the only way my brothers can get money, there is no other way for medicine, clothes, school….with jetons they can take it to market”

Julie examines bushmeat load on arrival Bafundo
Checking a bushmeat load against the jeton after arrival at an eastern post.

In Polepole – Cedric, the local jetonnier, went into hiding in the forest.  He only came out when the Mai-Mai were absent and a meat transporter called him.  He checked the load, wrote up the jeton, and went back into hiding.  Cedric’s family, afraid for their son, gave Fidel a goat, but that was not enough.  Eventually they had to put a “Fidel-fee” on every load of meat that went across.  About 8 dollars.  People paid until finally Fidel was arrested, captured by the villagers themselves.   Then the surcharge was dropped.

In Kakongo –Marcel, the son of the local chief Liboke, was the local jetonnier beginning in June 2019.  He continued after Idris, was shot in the early morning by Fidel’s Mai-Mai band.  Bernard’s band sent a contingent of Mai-mai to steal from Liboke, just because he and his son Marcel collaborated with the Park.  They stole three goats, chickens, ducks and two bags of rice.  Marcel, too, temporarily went into hiding, but came back and continued providing his brothers with jetons.

The story of Benekamba was particularly heart-wrenching.

first meeting in Benekamba
Arriving to see Alain in the little house in Benekamba where he sits all day.
telling what happened
Alain explaining what happened in May 2020.

Even after Fidel was captured there was continued tension.   The person who replaced Debaba also fled when more threats came in, but the local assistant, Alain Basila, took over.  Alain is handicapped.  A few years ago, while clearing forest for his garden, a tree fell on his lower back.  He has no use of his legs.  He sits in his one-room house where bushmeat transporters seek him out to show their meat and get jetons before crossing the park.

In May 2020, Thoms, the father of Fidel, sent a group of 35 young men to teach Alain a lesson for collaborating with the park.   Thoms’s way of exacting revenge for the capture of his son.  They beat Alain around the head and shoulders and hung him up in the baraza to beat him more.  But Konya, an elderly villager threw himself on the ground in front of the young attackers pleading for mercy.   Perhaps somewhat ashamed – they took a radio and the equivalent of about 70 dollars and they left.

Alain recovered and continued doing jetons…. There was no one else with the courage to replace him.

Jeremi_Bafundo copy
The jetonnier, Jeremie, verifies a load that has arrived in Bafundo.

But there is another benefit from the jeton process: All the collected jeton information gives us a better understanding of the people around the park and the animals that they depend on. We want to manage this park based on real knowledge.

For instance:
The forests west of the park have not been depleted by overhunting. HOW DO WE KNOW? A large proportion of the bushmeat brought across is from large mammals. Less than 5% was small animals (such as porcupine) which are the most abundant game from overhunted forests and there was a large proportion of forest pigs and large antelope – about 10% of all animals – rare in depleted forests.
Hunting is no longer the only important source of income in the west. HOW DO WE KNOW? In 2020 there were 927 domestic species (goats, chickens and ducks) brought across the park to sell and 319 groups of porters walked through with loads of fish from the rivers and streams of the western buffer zone.
But there are still a lot of forest animals coming over as bushmeat: in 2020 6,400 animals were killed and carried across the park, most to sell in the bushmeat market of Kindu.

One Comment

  1. John Sullivan
    Posted 2021-05-06 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    The dedication of the villagers to this inventive idea is heartening. Hopefully soon the remaining bad actors in the zone will be cleared out and no one will have to risk his/her life to support these conservation measures. What is needed to accomplish that? Stronger military presence?

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