Daniel’s Intimate View of Lomami

Notes, photos and videos by Daniel Alempijevic

The far south of Lomami National Park is nutrient-poor, seasonally flooded grasslands dotted with tree islands, or bosquets. Gallery forests project into these prairies, creating a fluted but, abrupt end to the rainforest blanket covering most of the park and most of the Congo Basin.

landscape photo
A forest gallery juts out in the Luzaka Prairie.

The Luzaka prairie and surrounding forests are TL2 “hotspots” where patrols frequently encounter bonobos. David Fasbender spent a year in Luzaka studying the bonobo-rich forest with terrestrial camera traps. 

Davids team
David wading through the flooded southern forests.

But what about the arboreal mammal community?  Which species occur in the forest fingers, or galleries? How many of these mammals leave the trees to cross prairies and colonize bosquets?

Distant bosquet
A distant bosquet in the Luzaka prairie.

I am a PhD Candidate from Florida Atlantic University.  This was my third trip to the Lomami National Park.  Earlier I used multi-strata camera trap “columns” to study Inoko in the courbure sector. These columns increased our knowledge of mammal diversity in Lomami National Park (LNP), and revealed the preferred heights of different species in the canopy. Since these surveys, one Inoko was killed by a hunter in the Luanga gallery, on the east side of the Luzaka prairie.

Joined by a fellow FAU student, Charlene, and a TL2 team, I set 30 columns, 2 km apart, covering forest interior, forest edge, and bosquets to determine the occurrence not only of inoko but all mammal species in the southern LNP ecotone. 

CF & BM set CT
Martin sets a camera trap while Charlene records site characteristics.

MAP
The thirty camera trap columns, spanning 172 km2 at the southern tip of the Lomami National Park.

There were some surprises working in Luzaka.  At some camps, it was the bee swarms. Honeybees craving salt would swarm us at camp, covering our skin, entering our clothes. They are not aggressive but, it is easy to pin the bees under your clothes, resulting in a sting. There were times when it was unbearable, and we would have to take refuge in our tents. Once, with bees in my ears and mouth, I had to submerge myself in a nearby stream.  I have been stung almost daily in Luzaka.  

Bee assortment
Three species of “honey” making bees are attracted to sweat; only the largest, the “common” honey bee can sting.

bees
Honey bees attracted to a sweaty back pack.

At another camp, it was the termites. Charlene was their first victim, waking in the middle of the night with the sensation of insects crawling on her. They had chewed through her tent from below. We thought it was an unfortunate coincidence, and patched up the holes with some duct tape. A few nights later, I woke flat on the ground. The termites chewed through my tarp, then my tent, and finally my inflatable sleeping pad, and I was only three weeks into a 6-month trip. Over the next few visits to this camp, wherever I set up my tent, the termites would emerge. Over the next few months, other insects chewed through the rainfly and mesh from above. Brand new camping gear, all bug food.

Termites emerged repeatedly from below my tent, chewing their way through everything in their way.

Next, the rains began. Much of our 172 km2 survey area quickly became inundated with water. Already difficult hikes over tussocky grasses and sedges, now included wading and the occasional swim. My “storm proof” tent, now covered in holes, offered little shelter from the storms. Flood surges destroyed two camera traps.

The environment and species captured by this camera trap completely changed with the wet season rains.

The forest was transformed by the wet season rains.

While at our farthest camp from the Lukunda field base, Martin, one of my assistants, woke me in the night whimpering from abdominal pain. Together with an ecoguard, they left camp on foot towards Lukunda, from where a TL2 motorbike took Martin to Kindu. The following night, I woke with fever. The next day, three more sick. We pushed for a few more days, setting a few more camera traps, this time targeting Inoko where the hunter reported killing one in the buffer zone years before. Finally, we could go no further, abandoned our goal of setting the three last sites, and started our two-day hike back to Lukunda. There we found that both the TL2 base leader and the ICCN head of the guard post had returned to Kindu ill. Some tested positive for malaria, none tested positive for COVID, we are now calling our collective illness “Lukundiasis”.

Through this work, we have accumulated some incredible videos. Not only did we record bonobos on the ground, but also in the canopy for the first time. The forest galleries are also home to a diverse ungulate community, and four monkeys.

Bonobos.

Ungulates.

Monkeys.

The elusive Inoko, blue monkey, and black mangabey, are all present nearby in the Courbure sector, but  rare or absent in southern galleries. 

The most exciting finds for me have been black-bellied pangolins. Canopy camera traps provide the only confirmation that this exclusively arboreal species occurs in Lomami National Park. We recorded all three rainforest pangolin species during this survey. 

Pangolins.

We have found that two monkeys and several other arboreal species are frequent visitors or residents of the bosquets. Three of them have been recorded crossing the prairies. We also recorded two of the prairies predators.

Red-legged sun squirrel.

Out on the ground.

And perhaps the most incredible part of this work, is the breath-taking view and indescribable feeling of emerging through the rainforest canopy to see what creatures have passed over the same branch as me.

I want to thank the Primatology Lab at Florida Atlantic University and the FZS-TL2 project in DR Congo. Our particular thanks to ICCN for welcoming and facilitating this project. The critical funding that made it possible came from Margot Marsh Biodiversity Fund, Primate Conservation Inc. (PCI) and Primate Action Fund (PAF).

2 Comments

  1. John Hart
    Posted 2021-11-05 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Great videos Daniel and account of the Luzaka survey.
    Now Biondo and Losekola await you and your team. Thank you for sharing this. Lomami….What a great national park.

  2. Posted 2021-11-18 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    Amazing work and amazing videos! Don’t quiz me on forest duikers; there are so many. Hope everyone is recovered from “Lukundiasis.” The one bonobo seems to have been spooked by the trail cam. Maybe a reflection in the lens?

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