Koko Bisimwa

Assistant Director of Inventory and Monitoring Unit (IMU)

Koko was born in 1988, in Bukavu in eastern DRCongo.

He studied communications and computer science at the Hope Africa University in Burundi.

After finishing his studies, he worked for a mining company for one year as IT support and communication team member. One day he came across a journal called ‘Le Gorille’ (The gorilla), an environmental communication magazine published by ICCN (Congolese Nature Conservation Institute) about Kahuzi-Biega National Park (KBNP). Koko got very interested in what he read, and thought how interesting it would be to meet with the editor of ‘Le Gorille’, Director Radar Nishuli, then the ICCN head warden of KBNP. Director Radar eventually became his mentor…

Koko (on the right) crossing Kasuku River in a dugout

As he read about conservation, Koko wanted to leave mining behind, and to use his skills for conservation instead. Soon the opportunity came. In 2014, a friend of his who worked in the KBNP asked him if he could repair one of the park’s computers. When Koko went to check the computer, he was very happy to meet Director Radar, who recognized that Koko could be useful for the park, given his background in computer science and his enthusiasm for conservation. That is how Koko started to work as an IT and communications expert for KBNP; he also learned some cartography. He stayed with ICCN for 3 years.

Koko started to work for the TL2 Project in April 2018, when Terese Hart and Matthieu Mirambo were visiting Director Radar in Bukavu. Seeing Koko’s contribution to the work in KBNP, Terese told Radar that John, then the Technical Adviser of Lomami National Park needed people like Koko. Director Radar agreed for Koko to start working for the TL2 Project.  And so, Koko arrived to Kindu, in Maniema Province. Everything was new to him here. He was worried if he would succeed, far away from home. His first field mission led him to Katopa, and this was the first time in his life that he had to walk about 40 km. It was difficult! In Kahuzi-Biega they used to travel a lot in vehicles, and they had to walk only a few km at a time to see gorillas or visit different field sites. After the first walk from Chombe Kilima to Katopa, through forest, streams and savannas, he was completely exhausted.  Now he is used to walking long distances in the field.

Koko (in middle with glasses) with field team in Lomami NP

His responsibilities for the project as a member of the Inventory and Monitoring Unit (IMU) are to plan and evaluate the patrolling and biomonitoring activities. At first he worked under the supervision of John Hart, now he is the director of IMU. He also makes maps, and occasional videos. IMU works in collaboration with the outreach teams, the law enforcement team, and ICCN. They visit the field sites, conduct meetings and trainings when necessary, and they produce different elements for reports including maps, graphs and tables.

His favorite part of his work is data analysis and interpretation, because it helps him to understand what’s going on in the field. He feels that he is “adding something in his intellectual bag every day.”   This is very important for him.

The most difficult part of his work is to be away from his wife, especially because he is newly married. But in general, he is happy with the work he chose. 

He would like to continue his studies and receive a Master’s Degree in geoinformatics, and maybe even continue to have a PhD to build his capacity and to be more effective in conservation in DRC. 

Koko lost his mother in 2017. His father used to be a professor and now is retired, living in Bukavu. Koko is the second of seven children. At the moment he is the only one in his family who is working in conservation. But as he says, this can change, because as he left mining for conservation, maybe one day someone else will do the same among his brothers and sisters.

Okapi in Musubuku Sector in Tshopo Province (camera trap photo)

One of the nicest memories he has from the field took place in Musubuku Sector in Tshopo Province, in April 2019. He was working on a field team that collected camera trap footage in a clearing. He was downloading the card to his computer, on the spot, so as to erase and clear the card to put back in the camera trap.  He scanned through the videos right then and there. He quickly saw footage of an okapi; the okapi had passed by the camera trap just an hour earlier, at around 9am that same day. He was amazed.