The Last 15+ years and tomorrow

me resting after Falanga savane

Terese resting on the path during a crossing of the Lomami National Park

The TL2 area is at the very center of Congo, about 40,000 km2, overlapping the basins of the Tshuapa, Lomami and Lualaba Rivers, centered on the Lomami (map below in sidebar).  Our explorations of the unrecorded area started by dugout and on foot in 2007.  Soon, we discovered a new species of monkey, locally known as Lesula. Our teams spread out through the upland forests, the savanna pockets, the swamp forests and along the many rivers. We hired locally, and established field bases along the Lomami and at the dead-ends of motorcycle paths leading towards the Lomami. Our TL2 teams integrated into the villages nearest the wilderness. We discovered a second species of monkey, Likweli, soon to be published. Critically endangered primates, previously thought to be living on the last bits of their disappearing range, were found also in the TL2 wilderness: dryas monkey, parmentieri monkey. Even DR Congo’s endemic ape, the Bonobo, was unexpectedly found throughout TL2. We found Okapi (DR Congo’s rainforest giraffe), three species of pangolin and an important population of forest elephant.

There were no artisanal mines in TL2, logging was still far away, near the navigable rivers, but there was hunting.  Lots of hunting. The forests closer to market towns had already been emptied of large wildlife, so the hunting frontier was pushed further and further into the hinterland.  TL2 teams spoke in the villages, warning of empty forests and of the galloping wildmeat trade.  What really bothered local people, was that many of the hunters were from far away, and they took their profits back to their own village and province of origin.  Because of this, when the national conservation agency, ICCN, proposed a national park in the area, it was not hard to organize local chiefs, elders  and local administrations.  In 2016 Lomami National Park was created, spanning two provinces, Maniema and Tshopo, and protecting a total of 8,874 km2 with a buffer zone of an additional 21,000 km2.

Lukuru’s TL2 project grew quickly.  By 2018, Lukuru was managing nearly two million dollars a year to monitor the entire park and increase community outreach in the buffer zone.  We had over two hundred employees, including the local people essential to our field work.  Our largest donor suggested ominously that Lukuru Foundation was too small to guarantee the longevity of the project into the long-term, particularly after John’s and Terese’s retirement.  Lukuru Foundation agreed and we started to look for another platform.  In 2019 the TL2 project moved to Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS).

In DR Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, an important bilateral donor told ICCN that it would only fund protected areas that were co-managed with an international conservation NGO rather than by ICCN alone.  Because of this, very soon after FZS adopted the TL2 project, they were able to start co-managing the national park with ICCN. 

With co-management, Terese became Lomami’s head warden in September 2021, taking on responsibility not only for the guard force, but also for the administrative ICCN staff, as well as all the previous TL2 staff.  The doubling of staff, the different pay-scales, the disparate capacities, all cut down on time to reflect and write.  This explains the lack of blog posts in 2022.  But now, having retired from that job and from FZS at the end of 2022, we are excited to speak about the last year’s observations, about the ICCN-FZS collaboration that will move competently forward and our (Terese’s and John’s) next contributions to conservation in DR Congo: Grey parrots! Elephants! World Heritage site for Lomami!  and those smaller  unprotected, wilderness areas of Maniema and Tshopo that have a few elephants, bonobos, African grey parrots — and who knows what else?

The Abraham Foundation has come forward with basic support; Lukuru Foundation has welcomed us  back.  We, Terese and John Hart, are now both advisors to the Congolese National Conservation Institute, ICCN. 

Where we come from is in a National Geographic video from back in the days and, equally ancient, is the Ituri Story tab, and here. Where we are going will be recorded in this blog.

In the park

John in the southern Lomami National Park.