A Wonderful, Impossible Year

At Ngombe_on Lomami
Is this my office? __ half way down the Lomami River in the Lomami National Park?

I stepped out of my comfort zone in September 2021 and stayed there until the end of December 2022.  It was not, thank goodness, 100% dismal:

I was never more immersed in the Lomami National Park – that I love;

LomamiRiver_©Daniel Rosengren_FZS
The Lomami River cuts through the forest and past small included savannas (in distance).

I was never closer to my husband – whom I love;

with Gov of Tshopo and Rusina LAB
John and I sit on either side of the governor of Tshopo Province. Koko (FZS – head of inventory and biomonitoring) is in back and Rusina (ICCN – head of park guards) next to John.

I worked closely with all the people dedicated to the Lomami wilderness with whom I have worked for years – that was wonderful;

stop on dugout trip
Just a few of them.

And I felt welcomed in my new position by the villages surrounding the park.

The women of two villages laid down a multicolored carpet and sang my welcome…catching me very much off guard.

But the position of Head Warden of Lomami National Park, “Directeur, Chef de Site” has heavy, almost impossible responsibilities.  In Sept 2021, I was made commander in chief of ICCN’s 70+ armed park guards and 50+ local administrative and project staff.  As Leader of the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) Project in Lomami, I was the person to make co-management between Congo’s Nature Conservation Institute (ICCN) and FZS effective on the ground.

In that, I was not successful.

meeting at JAY Kin
An FZS-ICCN meeting at Jay Hotel. Notice the incongruous art replicates on the wall. There was plenty that was incongruent below as well.

To have effective co-management, two workforces with different backgrounds, different pay scales and redundant job descriptions need to be merged.  The park guards were not a problem. FZS did not have their equivalent and has been working with them in the field for years.  But all administrative jobs, community conservation jobs, outreach and training jobs – were duplicated. 

ICCN building in Kindu
This is the second ICCN building in Kindu — larger than the first, but still too small for all the desk positions.

The merger could not be easy. 

The TL2 project (that became FZS) grew its workforce slowly, ever since 2007, as we covered more geographic ground, or met a new need.  ICCN grew quickly after 2014 with a single grant and a neophyte head warden.   His job was apparently accomplished by surrounding himself with staff holding the right titles: researcher, community organizer, public relations expert.  ICCN headquarters, 100 km from the nearest park border, was filled with sedentary experts.

ICCN and FZS work together in limit marking
FZS biologist, Henri Silegowa (blue shirt), worked with other FZS staff, ICCN park guards and villagers to mark an important part of the park border in 2022.

Most new park guards were sent to the field, their job was known, park protection.  But, ICCN had no funds for the operations of their non-guard staff.  In Sept 2021, I found over 50 employees still sitting at ICCN headquarters in Kindu.  Many of them sitting there for more than 6 years.   

I moved in with them.

It was not fair; everyone employed by ICCN needs a chance to show what they can do.  It does not sweeten the situation for ICCN to see their FZS counterparts working in the park and getting paid much higher salaries.   A critical complication is that ICCN workers are state employees; FZS, even as the co-management partner, does not have the final say in their employment fate.  The Direction of ICCN in Kinshasa is the employer.

FZS-ICCN guards head south with suppolies from halfway point along Lomami
FZS with ICCN park guards carry rations south along the Lomami River in three dugouts lashed together. One ICCN non-guard was integrated at a high level into the monitoring teams along the Lomami, another was integrated in the eastern buffer zone, but most other ICCN staff presented too many conditions before they could be moved out of the office to the field.

That was my frustration during the “Head Warden Year”: I could not slim down, integrate and stimulate a single Lomami work force.

Troop review Biondo_rotational camp
Reviewing the guards at Biondo, a rotational camp on the Lomami River, in the park.

But there were definite glimmers of light:

The top guards are truly dedicated; We moved through the park together to review guards at all the posts. It was strange, as the daughter of a pacifist, who was a conscientious objector during WWII, to be accompanied by bodyguards and saluted by armed park guards, but the leaders of the guard force understood well the importance of discipline and well-defined objectives.

justin event_with chef and lab
In the center, Joseph Rusina, the head of Lomami park guards with a local “groupement” chief discuss how to pay back villagers for inappropriate confiscations during a park patrol. Below Rusina is talking to the villagers about the mission and role of ICCN guards.
Justin event_village near entrance parc pigeon

The problems of headquarters did not reach the park.   Park protection is a joint effort – Park guards and FZS staff watch each other’s backs -literally — and they sweat, trek, and arrest working as unified teams.

Nguzo and Leon with ZED et BB
John Nguzo (on left), Rusina’s assistant, and Leon Salumu (in blue striped shirt), FZS buffer zone supervisor, at Bangaliwa patrol post, discuss collaboration with the ICCN head guard and the FZS base camp leader.

During the year 2022 we grew from 8 patrol posts to 10, making the park more secure and integrating more of the bufferzone villages into our efforts.  We marked the park border through an important area, and created a community reserve outside the park.  More about these incremental successes in the next posts.

Liekelesole construction underway
Building two permanent buildings at the Liekelesole patrol post.

With a mixture of satisfaction,frustration and –I admit it — relief, I ceded the twin posts of FZS project leader and head warden of the Lomami National Park to a another, very experienced chief.  Radar Nishuli comes in with a background in ICCN and even in Lomami; He was welcomed back by ICCN and FZS, both.  He brings a Congolese orientation and an ICCN understanding.  We wish him success and remain ready to help in any way possible.

MAKING coffee in dugout
There are some rituals I will miss: Like making good coffee in the bottom of the dugout and sharing it with whatever colleagues were traveling with me.


  1. Roger Peet
    Posted 2023-05-13 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Wow- amazing timing! I’m in Lubumbashi working on a project about the use of Congolese uranium in the Manhattan project, and was just chatting with Dino on FB. That gave me the idea to open BIC after a long while away- only to find a new post published just the day before! Fascinating to read about all of this work, truly legendary.

  2. John Sullivan
    Posted 2023-06-01 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    No doubt you made the best of a difficult or impossible situation, but it sounds like you succeeded at the most important task: protection of the Park during your tenure. Best of luck to your successor.

  3. Thomas Anzböck
    Posted 2023-07-17 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    I am glad to read your news. I have already been asking the FZS if you are ok. Good luck!

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