Some call it the “African silence” when a forest is struck silent by poaching and the bushmeat trade. Others call this phenomenon “dead zones” that have no birds, no monkeys, no small mammals, no snakes… These places have been stripped bare by local communities that are struggling to feed their families and access medical care. The Mbuti pygmy encampments photographed in the early 1980s depict a wire- and nylon-free lifestyle that saw them capture forest animals on a daily basis for local consumption. Today most of the bushmeat is exported to distant markets by bicycle, 4×4 vehicles, and on foot. No one has the right to judge these people when they focus on bushmeat as their only source of protein. We must, however, restrict use of forest products, as far as possible, to people with heritage rights to the land, as they are the custodians of these forests. Terese and John Hart are committed to witnessing, studying, conserving and combatting the atrocities of the bushmeat trade in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Over the next few weeks I will post a series of summary posts linking back to their blogs on their website: http://www.bonoboincongo.com/…
Bushmeat: Every Man’s Protein – Until the Forest is Empty
In some of DR Congo’s most remote forest we are witnessing a cascading clean-out of large wildlife. It is like watching a cloud-shadow creep over the forest; where it passes, it leaves an invisible, permanent absence. The edge is pushed forward by an advancing web of hunter’s paths crisscrossed with long snare lines, a litter of shotgun cartridges, and small leaf-shack hunting camps. (http://www.bonoboincongo.com/2008/02/26/bushmeat-3-the-history-of-hunting-in-tl2/)
In 1997 we began an exploration and inventory of DRCongo’s least known interior forests (http://www.bonoboincongo.com/maps/). Situated on the Congo River’s west bank and within the basins of the Tshuapa, Lomami and Lualaba Rivers (=TL2 project). We set out to explore 40,000 km2, but finding the perimeter forests already empty of large mammals, we concentrated on the 20,000 km2 interior forests (http://www.bonoboincongo.com/2009/11/15/bushmeat-9-a-congo-chronology-of-bushmeat/). At the end of 2011 the governors of two provinces signed their agreement for a national park within 9,500 km2 of TL2’s core area. (http://www.bonoboincongo.com/2011/11/16/down-the-congo-river-from-ritual-sacrifice-to-governors-desk/).
Why a park? Because the forest is still surprising rich, containing:
(1) A previously unknown population of the great ape, bonobo, that only lives on the left bank of the Congo River ( http://www.bonoboincongo.com/the-bonobo/). This population of about 9000 bonobos is being hunted. (http://www.bonoboincongo.com/2008/06/17/bushmeat-5-ashley-goes-south-up-the-lomami/)
(2) An important remnant population of forest elephant with only 500-700 left and under constant poaching pressure. (http://www.bonoboincongo.com/2008/02/03/bushmeat-2-not-for-pot-species/)
(3) A rainforest giraffe endemic to DRCongo is also in TL2 and caught in snare traps. In fact all large mammals of the TL2 are under pressure. That includes 10 species of monkey, including a new species (Lesula is common name) and two rare subspecies Cercopithecus mona elegans and Piliocolobus oustaleti parmentieri. Each of these three primate species is found in only a small area of forest and nowhere else.
The forest of the soon-to-be Lomami National Park – straddling three major river basins in Congo’s forested gut – is rapidly becoming leaner. Will the animals be protected once the park is made? (http://www.bonoboincongo.com/2008/03/09/bushmeat-4-tl2-in-the-middle/)
A park is not automatic protection, not even a park created with the agreement of local elders, as is the case for the Lomami National Park. (http://www.bonoboincongo.com/2010/08/01/a-park-for-bonobos-do-the-ancestors-want-it/) Protection is not easy. The forest has animals for which there is a market in distant towns. (http://www.bonoboincongo.com/2009/08/12/bushmeat-lousy-way-to-make-a-living-when-game-gets-scarce/) A park has local and national authority for protection. Still infrastructure and enforcement will take funds – and now, in DRCongo – these funds must come from overseas.
Perhaps a ditty? Not to celebrate, but to commemorate what is still there and hopefully will not be lost. ( http://www.bonoboincongo.com/2008/11/20/bushmeat-6-this-little-monkey-went-to-market/)
Please follow Terese and John Hart’s work in the Democratic Republic of Congo by reading their latest blogs at: http://www.bonoboincongo.com/