Seismic Changes in Congo Conservation

Blood of the goat on the ground
When a goat is hung up for slaughter, its blood drains on the ground. This marks the site of ritual, celebration or tragedy.

We are beginning to believe in continental movements and the succession of ice ages.  We are beginning to believe in biologic and geographic ultimatum as mover of extinction and speciation.  We are living in an age of fire and flood, tsunami and sudden crevasse, the era of global pandemics.

meeting change with drums and dance
When something must be communicated – ritual, celebration or tragedy – drums reach farther than words.

DR Congo should be central to the disasters… everyone here knows the life crushing impact of Ebola, Measles, Cholera, and, particularly, the heart-tearing loss of toddlers to Diarrhea, Malaria and Pneumonia.  So, DR Congo should be a tremulous, tragic crucible of these cataclysms. 

It is not. 

Congo had only one volcanic eruption this year with many fewer lives and businesses lost than in the eruption of 2002.    And Covid is among us, but it is a small tremor in Covid’s global shake-up.  

Dancing is not just for the firm and young – dancing is for everyone and is for ritual, celebration and even closure after tragedy.

But other Seismic changes, changes that we thought might never happen in Congo, are now upon us.

Stronger than the health system in DR Congo, far stronger than any emergency response system in DR Congo is a self-serving, self-perpetuating state administration.  And among the most “profit to the big man” of these state services was Parks and Nature Conservation.   A national election and change of president did not shake his hold.  His mandate ended, his legal tenure was past and still he stayed.

Not always easy to swallow what must go down….
Canopy camera trap video thanks to Daniel Alempijevic.

We kept waiting for change but it always seemed a bite too big to swallow….until…

The Bilateral and Multilateral funders for conservation knew something was not right; their money moved out of the banks, but on-the-ground accomplishments did not happen or, they happened, but with other money.  Smaller NGOs, not required to give their money through the state, use it directly on the ground.   Smaller NGOs fund biomonitoring, law enforcement, community projects.  Outrageous proportions of the bi-lateral funds were drained into the state institution without ever reaching the ground.

This is what funds must help, totally protected species like Angolan colobus.
Video from Daniel Alempijevic’s canopy camera traps.

 Behind the institutional dams, that side-channeled funding, the seismic tension built; the German development bank understood something was amiss.  It cut funding making private partnerships or co-management with NGOs a requirement in every park where they invested, before funding would be resumed.  In the case of the Lomami National Park, FZS signed a co-management contract with the Parks Service in January. The German bank immediately resumed funding — BUT no co-management was put in place.  The appointments weren’t made, people weren’t officially notified, the seismic tension built – and then in August the dam burst.

at the cutting of the ribbon
All New: me freshly appointed Park Director (September 2021) next to an equally new Assistant Director of the national ICCN to the left, Vincent Imbongo.

Event 1:  There is a new head of national parks and conservation —  Olivier Mushiete – Welcome.  Olivier comes with international experience, conservation experience (he was head of a protected area) and has a significant slice of administrative savvy.

shaking hands with outgoing
I shake hands with the parting, temporary Park Director (now my assistant) and receive the “seals”.

Event 2: There is a new head of the Lomami National Park  — me, mamaTerese – and we are all rising to this challenge – all of FZS-TL2 together.  It is a challenge that we will bring to fruition for Lomami conservation.

with staff present in Kindu
In front of the ICCN-Lomami Naitonal Park office in Kindu with staff from both FZS and ICCN that will be merging into one park unit.

And then almost immediately after these two events:

Motorbike cavalcade down the “roads” of Maniema with the directrice of the German Development Bank of DR Congo.

Event 3:  the national representative of the German bank visited Lomami.  She did what no one expected: she actually went out on the ground, went into the park, and saw, as had not been seen before, how conservation is accomplished in the Lomami and how German taxpayer money is being used.

At the park border:

Arrived at the park border
Britta Oltmann of KfW DRC to the right of sign in blue handkerchief.
Also in photo DGA ICCN, Director Chief of International Collaboration ICCN, Assistant director LNP, representative vice premier minister and minister of the environment.

Watching Daniel climb to change the sim in a canopy camera trap:

going up

A rest-stop on a walk in the park:
At a quickly constructed picnic table mid-walk.

Sitting next to John, above, is Ben of the ICCN-Kinshasa, Director of International Cooperation. Behind John is Piers, part of the KfW delegation and beside and behind me, Britta. She was determined to not just have the usual light look at KfW operations in Kindu, but a true look at what was happening and what needed to happen for conservation on the ground.

With the women:

Above, Britta meets with a group of women in Lukunda .  She had similar meetings to understand the challenges of being a woman of the buffer zone in Kakunga, NgongaMoto, Olangate and Nyombo.

** Because of the help of many, we have a new momentum.  Thank you Matthieu and Ben, thank you Leon and Omo, thank you OT and John and many others.  A litany of thanks is appropriate.   Let-us make good on it.  Let thrive Congolese forests and all the plants and animals within them.  Let thrive the Lomami National Park.

Thank you to Leon Salumu and Daniel Alempijevic for the photos and videos.


  1. Daniel Alempijevic
    Posted 2021-09-20 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations Mama T, we are all very proud of you. Looking forward to positive changes coming from the new administration.

  2. Eleanor Joanne Hart
    Posted 2021-09-22 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations Mama T! Your Colorado family is so proud of you. This is a huge accomplishment and a testement to the hard work, dedication and passion of you and the ENTIRE TL2 TEAM. We look forward to what comes next!

  3. John Sullivan
    Posted 2021-09-24 at 4:25 am | Permalink

    So good to know the park is in the best of hands. Best of luck going forward!

  4. Posted 2021-09-27 at 5:23 am | Permalink

    Congratulations Mama T, we are now confident that things will go well for the park. Best luck in your new mission.

  5. Kate Detwiler
    Posted 2021-10-07 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    Wow! Wonderful to see the event in your pictures and story. Congratulations to all of you!

  6. Cynthia Moses
    Posted 2021-10-20 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    Terese and John, You are so amazing and committed. It is wonderful to see and read about your accomplishments in true and devoted conservation.

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