Tag Archives: DRC

Calling the World to help save African Elephants


African Elephants


WildlifeDirect supports the African Elephant Coalition (AEC) in the call to the world to help save African elephants.

As an organization that has been in the forefront calling for a total ban on all ivory trade, WildlifeDirect urges other African countries not represented at the meeting held in Montreux, Switzerland from 24 to 26 June 2016 to join AEC in this call to save the our iconic species that are in danger of extinction if nothing is done.

In a press release by AEC, 29 member states call on all governments, inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations for their support, and calls on citizens around the world to ask their respective governments and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) representatives to support the five proposals and to help the Coalition in its mission to list all elephants in Appendix I.

The Coalition of 29 African member states submitted to CITES five proposals designed to reverse the poaching crisis facing elephants and to put an end to the ivory trade to afford elephants the highest protection under international law.

The five proposals are:

  1. Listing all elephants in CITES Appendix I
  1. Closure of domestic ivory markets
  1. Ivory stockpile destruction and management
  1. The Decision-Making Mechanism for a process of trade in ivory (DMM)
  1. Restricting trade in live elephants

AEC agreed to launch a social media campaign in a bid to gain support for the five proposals to the 17th Conference of the Parties (CoP17) of CITES in September-October in Johannesburg, South Africa. We invite you to use the hashtags #WorthMoreAlive, #EndIvoryTrade and #Vote4Elephants to support the campaign.

Speaking at the meeting in Montreux, Bourama Niagaté from Mali, a member of the Council of the Elders for the Coalition noted that there was need for all relevant stakeholders to pull together for the sake of Africa’s elephants.

Kenya, a member state of AEC has taken a zero tolerance approach to poaching and ivory trafficking.

In April this year, Kenya took a bold step in burning 105 tons of ivory and 1.5 tons of rhino horn. This is reportedly the world’s largest stockpile of elephant ivory and rhino horns ever to be burnt. The historic burn demonstrated Kenya’s commitment to seeking a total global ban of ivory and rhino horns.

Speaking at the burn, President Uhuru Kenyatta said, “by destroying ivory we declare once and for all that our national heritage is not for sale”. The only value that ivory has is tusks on a live elephant.

It is this commitment from the highest level of government and collaboration with conservationists and law enforcement that has seen Kenya achieve 80 percent reduction in deaths of elephants in the last three years.


You can download the Press Release Here

KTN PRIME News – Save Our Elephants

Last night Kenya Television Network – KTN featured the Hands Off Our Elephants Campaign in a story dubbed Save The Elephants during their PRIME Time News at 9m.  We are pleased that the News Anchors wore the Hands Off Our Elephants armbands in solidarity with the drive to Save Our Majestic Elephants @HandsOffOurEles

Watch the full story here…

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UK listed companies want to drill oil in Virunga!

hand_rigIt is with great shock that we have learned that two companies listed in the London Stock Exchange, SOCO and Dominion, plan to drill for oil in Africa’s oldest park, the Virunga National Park. Home to about 200 mountain gorillas, nearly a quarter of the world’s surviving population of these majestic great apes, Virunga has survived and thrived due to heavy investment by the DRC government and conservation organisations. To have such a park survive in a war-torn and mostly lawless province like Kivu sure takes great effort and for two ‘respected’ companies to want to erase many years of conservation effort merely for profit is, for lack of a stronger word, atrocious!

Xinhua News Agency reports that “Company maps seen by international media indicate that SOCO intends to drill through much of the park in areas with some of the highest savannah biomass in the world.” These actions will be costly for the area’s precious and fragile biodiversity, including not only the charismatic gorillas, but also chimpanzees, hippos, elephants and other rare species, as well as the local population who benefit from tourism and sustainable fishing inside the national park. Some 30,000 local fishermen fish sustainably on the park’s Lake Edward, a Ramsar protected site.

Virunga is a recognised UNESCO World Heritage Site home to many species of mammals, birds and reptiles, and an impressive diversity of landscape and habitats. How dominion and SOCO would wish to jeopardize this highly important biodiversity refuge is beyond comprehension.

gorilla photoConservationists, including those at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) are calling on the government of DRC to honor and enforce the oil exploration ban that prohibits drilling inside the park. They have also petitioned the UK companies “to respect the law and international convention and to abandon their harmful plans for exploration.”

For some time since it’s inception in 2006 WildlifeDirect supported Virunga National Park through funds raised from ordinary individuals in America and Europe. These funds payed wages for the armed rangers who are now restoring law and order in the park. Former WildlifeDirect director, Emmanuel DeMerode is now the director of Virunga National Park. Our investment in the Virunga is significant, we cannot stand aside and let our efforts and those of others go to waste. WildlifeDirect therefore categorically condemns this attack on the Virunga, and calls for all action – from the DRC government, to Dominion and SOCO and the international community – to end this madness.

Virunga shall not die.

Tough Times for our Bloggers

In the past week or so, our bloggers have been reporting some tough situations in their areas of work. From death of elephants to financial crises and other ravages of drought and the global economic crisis.

CERCOPAN of Nigeria were last week tittering on the edge of a financial cliff as they needed to raise US$ 3,333 in order to keep their premises and continue rescuing primates caught up in the deep rooted west African bushmeat trade. They launched an appeal for funds and WildlifeDirect has been helping them spread the word. As of today, they had raised US$1395 which is quite impressive. They however need some US$1,938 before the end of August to secure the 120 primates’ only place of sanctuary from the bushmeat insanity.

monkeys at Tacugama, WildlifeDirect

The Amboseli Trust for Elephants (ATE) on Kenya is also facing a crisis with some of the most known African Elephants in the world starting to die because of the severe drought that is bringing Kenya and other east African states to their knees. They have lost valuable matriachs – and old friends – such as Echo, Grace, Isis, Leticia, Lucia, Odile, Ulla and Xenia in the last 1 year.  Echo, Isis, Leticia and Ulla have been matriarchs of their families since the 1970s. But the human hand is also dealing a blow to elephant conservation.

Ulla the elephant matriarch

Poaching is taking out the large bulls. In the last 10 days three more big males have been killed. One, Ebenezer, had his tusks cut out with a power saw. That should send a warning alarm to wildlife authorities in Africa – today’s poachers are more advanced in their brutality.

To fight these poachers, ATE has supported two ranger bases in Amboseli area. Now they need a third and need to raise US$ 10,000 to fund building the base and to keep it running. Please help them.

The bushmeat trade in western Africa is really messy and two young victims of this grim trade have arrived at Tacugama in Sierra Leone. This is in addition to the three that arrived recently and all together Tacugama has in their care 96 orphaned chimps. They are, quite literally, bursting at their seems with chimp orphans. That makes it all the more needy for funds to rehabilitate these little ones until they are ready to get back into the forest and fend for themselves. You would help them wouldn’t you?

chimp driving

While all this is going on, we at WildlifeDirect want to keep this channel open so that you and your friends can respond to these emergencies and day to day needs of the wildlife of Africa, Asia and South America.  We also need your direct support so that we can pay Internet bills, electricity, rent and staff who keep these blogs working. We want you to continue enjoying the happy moments with our bloggers. To laugh with them, and to cry with them when times are hard. After all, you don’t want to wake up one morning and find that there is no WildlifeDirect. I believe you would be worried about all the poor defenseless wildlife that have been benefiting from the existence of WildlifeDirect. Please don’t let this happen.

New reserve in the Congo benefits bonobos

Here’s some wonderful news from Jeremy Hance about a new reserve in the Congo that benefits bonobos and locals

May 25, 2009

A partnership between local villages and conservation groups, headed up by the Bonobo Conservation Initiative (BCI), has led to the creation of a new 1,847 square mile (4,875 square kilometer) reserve in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The reserve will save some of the region’s last pristine forests: ensuring the survival of the embattled bonobo–the least-known of the world’s four great ape species–and protecting a wide variety of biodiversity from the Congo peacock to the dwarf crocodile. However, the Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve is worth attention for another reason: every step of its creation–from biological surveys to reserve management–has been run by the local Congolese NGO and villages of Kokolopori.

I. ‘To me the first thing, it’s very simple, you give the local people the control’.

The establishment of nature reserves often leads to conflict with local people, sometimes lasting generations. Traditionally governments and conservation organizations delineate park boundaries so that they avoid all human populations, or in some cases even remove people from the parks. Local people–who may have enjoyed traditional rights in the parks for centuries–are suddenly told they can no longer hunt, fish, or collect resources in the park. Programs are often established to aid local people or repay them for their losses, but many of these prove less-than-adequate.

The situation in Kokolopori could not be more different. In partnership with BCI, locals have been involved in every decision regarding the new reserve. BCI, a ground-breaking conservation group, was also responsible for the establishment of Sankuru Reserve in the DRC. Larger than Massachusetts, Sankuru Nature Reserve made headlines in 2007 for its importance to conservation and its focus, like Kokolopori, on working with local communities. However Kokolopori has taken local community involvement to a new level.

“To me the first thing, it’s very simple, you give the local people the control,” Michael Hurley, executive director and vice president of BCI, told Mongabay.com. “Give them the education and teach them modern conservation science to facilitate their doing it, but also give them the resources so they can take control, and that’s often the step that’s missed. I’ve heard it said so often, ‘well, we want to work with that group there, but they really don’t have the capacity to do the kinds of things we need to do’. And my response is, ‘well, there’s the problem, focus on building their capacity as opposed to just imposing conservation programs’.”

One way in which BCI builds capacity is by crafting close partnerships with local NGOs, in this case Vie Sauvage.

“It is important to emphasize up front that BCI could not have accomplished this without the leadership of Albert Lokasola, a visionary leader, and President of Vie Sauvage, a locally based NGO,” says Hurley, “ An important aspect of BCI’s approach is to support, nurture, and facilitate local leaders, and commit to long-term partnerships.”

The people of Kokolopori have long known what it is like to be ignored by the outside world. Suffering through the decade-long Congo war, they have never known steady access to health care or education. In addition, the war disrupted their ability to sell agricultural crops–a livelihood they had depended on. It was in the midst of this situation that the people of Kokolopori decided to protect their forests as a reserve rather than exploit them for profit. Albert Lokasola, President of Vie Sauvage, approached BCI in 2001 seeking support with local conservation efforts. The Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve became not only welcome news for conservation efforts but humanitarian ones as well, since innovative programs have given the people of Kokolopori the chance of a better life.

During preliminary studies in the region it become increasingly clear that a nature reserve which did not directly benefit local people would not be viable or desirable to any party involved. So, BCI began to create its own version of forest reserves that incorporated local human communities. BCI sought partnerships not only with the local communities, but also with local NGOs, Vie Sauvage. During every step in the reserve’s creation BCI turned more-and-more to the strength and dedication of the Congolese.

“The most important thing is [the Congolese] need to understand that they are the ones who have control. And that can only be done by building up relationships over the years and by constant proofs to the partners that you really are giving them control. And when that’s done, a foundation is built for real sustainability,” Hurley says.

II. ‘People who live in the forest know the forest better’.

From the very beginning, BCI solidified their relationship with locals. The first thing an organization must do before proposing a protected area is to survey the region’s biodiversity.

Kokolopori Reserve lies south of the Congo River in DRC’s Cuvette Centrale, a region of lowland tropical forest and wetlands. The reserve was known to have bonobos, but the actual number remained a mystery. In addition other species in the reserve needed to be identified. But unlike most biological surveys, which are often conducted by foreign scientists, this survey was undertaken largely by the local Congolese.

“What we believe is that people who live in the forest know the forest better,” Hurley says. “If I were going to go to Montana to photograph elk, I’d hire a local guide. So, [the Congolese] generally can collect a lot more data, they really observe the forest and know it more, and if you combine that with the science and technical skills–which we provide the training for–then we get a lot more information.”

Through training programs, BCI educated locals in GPS, surveying technology, and line transects. The training remained useful even after the initial surveys were finished.

“Once [the locals] started working on surveys with us then we tried to keep funding them, so in a sense it’s their equipment, they’re doing the work, and they’re being paid for it. That money is being dispersed through the community as well,” Hurley says. “They continue to act as ambassadors for conservation, and then we…convert many of the survey team members into monitors.”

Once a bonobo site is discovered, monitors are assigned to the area to protect the bonobos from hunters. Currently there are 70 local monitors overseeing a number of bonobo sites.

III. ‘How do you tell these local people who are poor and starving they should not hunt A –B –and -C?’

To work with the local people effectively, BCI developed the Information Exchange program, which facilitates a dialogue between the local people and conservationists. The Information Exchange program has been vital for identifying the true needs of Congolese in the region. As an example of the importance of Information Exchange, Hurley points to a water well that was almost built.

“One of our folks was in the village and the women were carrying water…it was about 3 ½ hours of work starting at sunrise: trekking down to a river area, collecting water, and bringing back all these heavy, heavy containers of water on their head to the village. The idea was…we should look at getting investment to build a well in the village. Now traditionally, what might be done is a socio-economic study: take a look around, look at what the needs are, and then develop a project and go in and build that well. But in this process what we found was the women said…‘oh, wait a minute that’s the only time we all get together away from the village and get to talk about our husbands’–and they bring their kids and the kids play in the water and everyone washes and the women share stories…it’s their time away, and they said ‘you know that really would not be good for us’. It’s that kind of sharing, that kind of knowledge asopposed to imposing things that we think are best for them.”

Hurley believes the Information Exchange program could help conservationists around the world to learn how to really communicate with local peoples about their needs. According to Hurley, many conservationists “go in and do biodiversity studies and then do socio-economic studies and then they talk about stakeholder engagements, but what it usually ends up being is they hold some meetings and tell local people what they are going to do. Information exchange is about going in and working with local people first in a language they understand, sharing with them, and, most importantly, building upon their own systems of knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, and practices,” Hurley explains.

Once trust is established between locals and the environmental organization through communication programs like the Information Exchange then much of the work that would traditionally be done by conservationists is taken on by locals.

“Someone asked Sally [Jewell Coxe, co-founder and president of BCI] awhile ago, ‘how do you tell these local people who are poor and starving that they should not hunt A-B-and-C’. And her answer was ‘well, we don’t, their peers and their Congolese do’. That’s it. We build the local leadership and they are the ones that then do this, not us,” Hurley explains.

IV. ‘You can’t ignore health care and education; those are not just extraneous things.’

One of the most important aspects of working with the people of Kokolopori has been efforts to provide better infrastructure, along with education and health-care in a region that had known neither.

BCI has sought to improve infrastructure in Kokolopori by providing an atmosphere of cooperative use of resources between locals and visiting conservationists, essentially instilling the philosophy of ‘we are all in this together’. The reserve’s conservation centers are open for the local people to use, providing the region with its first easy access to communicating with the outside world.

“Even though the conservation centers are primarily to support the work of BCI and Vie Sauvage, they’re for the local people, who use them. So unlike parks where you have park headquarters but the people have to knock on the door and ask permission, these are really sites that are of and for the people,” Hurley explains.

According to BCI’s strategic plan the access to radio and satellite phone has transformed the region: “Before BCI installed an HF radio at Kokolopori and provided a satellite phone to Vie Sauvage, the only means of long-distance communication was talking drums.”

Providing better access to education, including higher education, has also been a vital component of BCI’s work in Kokolopori.

“We have supported local schools with material and supplies and roofing,” says Hurley. “As well we have the ISDR-Djolu, the Djolu Institut Superieur de Developpement Rurale, which provides higher level training and education.”

The creation of ISDR was led by Albert Lokasola. The technical college includes coursework in conservation, sustainable agriculture, community development, math, and rural administration.

BCI and its partners have also built the first clinic in the area, called the Bonobo Health Clinic, which includes an on-staff doctor and nurses. The clinic is supported by the Indigo Foundation in Australia and by the Kokolopori-Falls Church Sister City partnership, the first sister cities between the USA and the DRC. The clinic has conducted nutritional studies in the region, which have revealed a protein deficiency in some of the population, a problem that the medical team is striving to correct.

“It has to be a totally holistic approach that addresses things like health care and education, because you can give embedded by Embedded Video
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V. ‘They are the ones who are controlling this and that generates a huge amount of social capital.’

When BCI entered the region in 2001, they found the villages of Kokolopori devastated by DRC’s long war. All access to markets for agricultural products had been cut, severing the villages’ economy. No products had been going in or out for years. This also led to an up-tick in bushmeat hunting by local peoples for subsistence. BCI and its partners created projects to work with locals to re-invigorate their sustainable agricultural systems and provide access to markets.

One successful program involved working with the region’s staple crop, cassava. When crops were devastated by mosaic disease, which destroyed up to 80 percent of yields, a partnership between BCI, Vie Sauvage, the South-East Consortium for International Development, and the local agricultural cooperative, CAPEC, introduced a new mosaic-disease resistant cassava variety.

As Hurley describes, the new cassava cuttings have been important both for the local people and the forest: “In Kokolopori as in other areas [locals] are cutting into secondary and sometimes primary forests to expand agricultural fields, but they are able to now reduce that agricultural expansion and get higher productivity on smaller plots [with the new cassava cuttings], and then expand the multiplication fields and the other fields which are the people’s. The local people can then also sell the cassava cuttings to other communities and make revenues from that…We are starting to introduce other seed stocks and other crops as well in a planned, carefully phased program that reduces the impact on the forest.”

Other programs have focused on aiding the villages’ women. Through micro-credit programs, BCI and its partners have provided local women with non-electric sewing machines and training. Women are currently selling making and selling dresses locally, while BCI hopes to expand the program internationally. As well, women have been trained in soap-making and salting fish. These micro-credit programs are meant to provide families with additional income and security.

Hurley believes that BCI shows just how much a conservation organization can accomplish, so far, without long lists of wealthy donors by spending wisely and forging important partnerships. Part of the secret is to make certain that communities are aware of where the money is going.

“What’s amazing…is that if the people know we don’t have a huge amount of funding, so even if it’s a little bit of money they know that it goes to them…and they also know…they will have control of it,” Hurley says. “So while they’re hoping for greater funding in the future for many of these programs, even with a small amount of funding it helps motivate and engage the people to be engaged in conservation. But it’s not just the funding, it’s local people’s understanding that they are the ones who are controlling this and that generates a huge amount of social capital.”

VI. ‘It’s outsiders who come in and do commercial bushmeat hunting’.

Wildlife in the DRC currently faces two major threats: habitat loss and hunting. Deforestation for agriculture and logging, including rampant illegal logging, has devastated habitat for many species in the DRC. However, hunting is also a large concern. Congo’s forest elephants have been decimated in recent decades by ivory poachers. Hunting for meat is also on the rise all over central Africa. This practice, known as bushmeat hunting, provides income and protein-rich foods in a part of the world that often lacks both.

While Kokolopori has seen some deforestation due to expanding village agriculture, so far the reserve has avoided attention from logging companies. This has allowed the area to remain relatively pristine compared to other areas in the DRC. But Kokolopori’s wildlife has not been so lucky: “bushmeat hunting is the major threat, and really its commercial bushmeat hunting,” Hurley says.

Hurley adds that although local people hunt, they are largely agriculturists by nature. This fact is something the Congolese have expressed to Vie Sauvage and BCI throughout their meetings in the Information Exchange program.

“It’s logical,” Hurley explains. “While there are spiritual and cultural aspects to some traditional subsistence hunting practices, many locals would much rather get up in the morning and step outside their back door and work in an agricultural field and have improved livestock management, pigs, goats, and chickens. They’d rather have all that outside their back door than spend three or four days in the forest hunting something.”

With increased education and awareness, including the re-establishment of outside markets for their agricultural products and enforcement of hunting regulations, bushmeat hunting by locals will largely become a non-issue. Commercial bushmeat hunting, however, remains a large threat facing the wildlife of Kokolopori.

“In many parts of the Congo and in some parts of Kokolopori it’s outsiders who come in and do commercial bushmeat hunting, they come in and set up camps, they hunt out a forest, and then they smoke the meat, and they transport it, they leave on the river and sell it. And it’s not their forest,” says Hurley.

BCI has increasingly discovered that the key to dealing with bushmeat hunters is reinforcing control by the local authorities. In other words, make the local people, at least in part, responsible for catching and punishing those who invade their forest.

“There are many estimates on how many park guards you need per square kilometer in a certain area, but when you have an entire village, an entire traditional chieftainship, and a hierarchical structure that has certain belief systems and rights, when that whole village is …saying: ‘this is our forest, and we’ve agreed to it, we are agreeing to protect this land’, it’s an awful lot easier” to protect wildlife, according to Hurley. “You, in a sense, have thousands of people who are enforcing the law… [it’s] going to be a lot stronger and a lot more sustainable.”

Kokolopori will also have traditional eco-guards monitoring the reserve through the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN), but, as Hurley says, “our work with the ICCN also recently has shown that they truly believe that this new model may be better.”

At the same time, rules and regulations are still being set up across the reserve. Rather than the usual dogma of no hunting–ever–BCI is working on creating a model that incorporates zoning and traditional practices to allow for some sustainable hunting by the local people. However flagship and endangered species, such as bonobos, will remain under protection in all zones.

“What we’ve learned in other protected areas, is that many local people use protected areas as their hunting zones…because they are frustrated by the fact that they have been thrown out,” explains Hurley. “So, we have to have a gradual transition process where certain sustainable hunting practices are allowed. The local people have traditional systems that have maintained sustainability in hunting, such as seasonality or rotating seasons, having certain areas of sacred forests or designated areas where no hunting is allowed. These ancient traditional systems tend to allow wildlife populations to be replenished. But there is still a lot of work to be done in Kokolopori, as there is even in all the old establish protected areas, to really figure out a good system.”

BCI, its partners, and the local people are still working out the different zoning areas for the reserve, but the zones will be modeled on how the locals use different regions and not determined by non-Congolese.

VII. ‘There is no place else like this in the bonobo habitat’

A major goal of Kokolopori reserve is to protect one of the world’s largest remaining populations of bonobos, with well over a thousand thought to inhabit the reserve.

Categorized as Endangered by the IUCN Red List, bonobos are threatened by both habitat loss and bushmeat hunting. Total population estimates vary widely, from 5,000 to 50,000, but the records of bonobo habitat loss are not so variable. It is estimated that the bonobo has only 24 percent of its habitat remaining. While a United Nations study predicted that bonobo habitat would shrink to 4 percent in twenty years, the lowest for any great ape.

Bonobos have become famous for their largely peaceful, egalitarian society, which contrasts starkly with the, at times, warlike nature of chimpanzees. While chimpanzee society is patriarchal and competitive, females actually hold the highest roles in bonobos society, with the top males chosen according to their mothers.

Bonobos are also known for their bi-sexuality and, in turn, their employment of sex as more than just a procreative act. Sex among the bonobos can be used to relieve stress, establish bonds, and let off steam. Having spent decades in the shadow of their closest relative, the chimpanzee, the bonobos are finally getting the attention they deserve. And Kokolopori is arguably the world’s best place to study or see bonobos.

“We’ve had visitors there. And according to ICCN they’ve never seen anything like this in bonobo habitat. Literally within hours of arriving visitors are looking at bonobos. There is no place else like this in the bonobo habitat,” Hurley says. “We have often heard of visitors to other protected areas in the bonobo habitat where it may take many days or be almost impossible to see bonobos. This is not the case in Kokolopori.”

Hurley adds that although Kokolopori “is very rough, very rough, it is where you can see bonobos.” He attributes this to the fact that Kokolopori, unlike other reserves, has had salaried locals monitoring bonobos groups since 2003. Kokolopori is currently working on setting-up limited eco-tourism.

Aside from bonobos, Kokolopori possesses a wealth of biodiversity. Unlike many forest regions in the DRC, Kokolopori has been relatively undisturbed, leaving healthy thriving ecosystems.

Eleven primate species, not including bonobos, have been identified in the reserve. This includes the Salongo monkey Cercopithecus dryas, which has been discovered in the wild for the first time in Kokolopori. Prior to its discovery in the reserve, the species was only known from markets. In fact, its name, Salongo, means ‘market-day’ in the local language, Lingala. Thollon’s red colobus Procolobus tholloni also inhabits the reserves; this species is so little known that the IUCN has yet to determine its status.

The park also includes the African golden cat Profelis aurata, the sitatunga Tragelaphus spekii, the Congo forest buffalo Syncerus caffer nanus, the bongo Tragelaphus eurycerus eurycerus, the leopard Panthera pardus, and the endangered dwarf crocodile Osteolaemus tetraspis.

Thirteen species of endangered birds have been recorded at Kokolopori, including the gray parrot Psittacus erithacus, which is highly threatened by the pet trade. The reserve also include five near-endemic birds: the Congo peacock Afropavo Congensis listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List, the yellow-legged malimbe Malimbus flavipes, the Congo sunbird Nectarinia Congensis , and two martins: the African river martin Pseudochelidon eurystomina and the Congo martinRiparia Ongica.

Forest elephants Loxodonta cyclotis have also been recorded in the reserve, but they “appear to be transient”, says Hurley, who explains that they apparently use Kokolopori as a migration route.

VII. ‘You can’t solve the problem by using the same mindset that created the problem’.

The philosophy of local community engagement and involvement is not only effective according to Hurley but its also relatively inexpensive: “What we have discovered, with so many other folks working in the Congo basin, is some of the big entities say, ‘you know our biggest problem is getting the local communities to work on our programs, to be engaged in our programs’–that’s their biggest problem. You know, we seem to have the solution. We don’t have all the answers, I won’t say that. But we have the solution to part of that problem, we found that we have ways of motivating and engaging local communities, and ironically it’s without much money at all.”

Hurley believes that BCI’s philosophy should not constrained by geographic region, but could be useful in many parts of the world in solving the difficulties that have arisen between protecting nature and respecting the people who live there.

“We have really developed a methodology could be replicated in other parts of the world. In some cases, people talk about it, but they don’t really do it. There’s an Einstein quote that says something like: ‘you can’t solve the problem by using the same mindset that created the problem’. And all too often one goes in with a western mindset geared to developing and designing programs that we simply impose,” Hurley says.

One of the keys to BCI’s work–and one of its most surprising aspects–has been its capacity to spread without any additional effort from BCI.

“We provided a training program in Kokolopori, a couple years ago, where we had NGOs and community association members from many different organizations from outside Kokolopori,” Hurley says, gearing up for a good story. “Now one participant took the training and…he went right back to another region far to the west where he worked under a BCI subcontract as part of an Information Exchange team. We learned later that he was so inspired that he went back to his community and utilized his earnings to register an NGO with regional authorities…to protect bonobos and to set the area aside for conservation, and this was without any investment from BCI. That is, it is self-replicating,” Hurley explains. “The local communities are emulating this model, so our projects are self-replicating…and we are promoting systems where they share communications, where the people we’ve trained are training other people.”

One wonders why that same self-replicating process that has occurred on the ground in the jungles of the Congo, could not also occur globally, from the Amazon to Borneo, bringing locals villagers and conservationists together in a common purpose: for a better life and a better world.

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Official Statement on Garamba Attack by LRA

The partnership that manages Garamba National Park which consists of the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) and the African Parks Network, has issued a press release about the attack on the Park headquarters by Lords Resistance Army of the Ugandan rebel, Joseph Kony on which Paula reported in her post earlier today. Garamba park rangers were poised to start blogging at WildlifeDirect presently, but before that, we at Baraza would like to help them convey this urgent message.

Rangers at Nagero Station that was attacked (Photo (c) African Parks Network)

Press release
6 January 2009

On 2 January 2009, the headquarters of Garamba National Park, located in Nagero, Democratic Republic of Congo, have been attacked by the Ugandan rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Despite strong resistance by the park rangers together with elements from the Congolese Armed Forces, numerous casualties and material damages have been incurred. A first report mentions 8 people killed, including two park rangers and two wives of wardens, and 13 injured, most of them by bullets. An unconfirmed number of rebels have also been killed or wounded.

Several essential buildings of the headquarters have also been destroyed, along with many items of transport and communications equipment, and stocks of fuel and food rations.

“The headquarters in Nagero are in a state of havoc” mentions the Chief Warden Bernard Iyomi who directed the resistance during the attack and who narrowly escaped death. “The heroic behaviour of our rangers and wardens has prevented an ever heavier death toll”.

It will take several days before these first figures are confirmed, once the management team has completed the final assessment.

Military and humanitarian assistance is being rapidly deployed in order to secure the area and to help the populations displaced by the attack.

“We strongly condemn this attack launched by the LRA, and request the military authorities of the region and the international community to continue their involvement in solving this problem caused by the rebel group for so many years” says Mr Cosma Wilungula, the head of the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN).

“Our immediate concern is for the safety and wellbeing of our people, particularly those that are injured. Thereafter we will immediately begin rebuilding the administrative base and staff morale, both of which are essential for the continued management of this important park” adds Mr Peter Fearnhead, the Executive Director of African Parks.

Background information

Garamba National Park (NP) is located in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo along the border with Sudan. The park was established in 1938 by a Belgian royal decree as one of the first national parks in Africa, and has been associated with the elephant domestication centre created in the 1920s in Gangala-na-Bodio. The park has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980.

Garamba NP is surrounded by three game hunting reserves – Azande to the west, Gangala na Bodio to the south and Mondo Missa to the east. The total area of the Garamba complex is 12427 km², including 4900 km² for the park itself.

The Garamba complex still harbours populations of elephants, giraffes, buffaloes, hippos and numerous other species of ungulates. The presence of the Northern white rhinoceros still needs to be confirmed.

The ICCN (Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature) is the governmental authority in charge of the management and conservation of protected areas in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The ICCN controls a network that accounts for about 10% of the total land area of the country, including 7 national parks (among them 5 World Heritage sites) and numerous reserves.

African Parks Network is a private foundation based in Johannesburg (South Africa) and specialised in the management of protected areas. African Parks is currently active in 5 national parks and reserves across Africa. African Parks has officially assumed the management mandate for Garamba National Park on 12 November 2005, in partnership with ICCN.

Besides African Parks, Garamba National Park currently receives financial assistance from the European Union, the Spanish, Italian and Belgian governments, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Technical or scientific support is also provided by UNESCO, IUCN (World Conservation Union), United Nations for the Environment Programme and Fauna & Flora International.

Contacts :

For ICCN (Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature) :
Pasteur Cosma Wilungula, Administrateur Délégué Général
[email protected]
+243 998 97 6686

For African Parks Network
Dr. José Kalpers, Country coordinator for DRC
[email protected]
+254 737 576232
+32 495 141348

Is There ‘Gorilla Warfare’ in Virunga?

When rebels loyal to renegade DRC general, Laurent Nkunda, invaded and occupied the Virunga National Park in 2007, most rangers fled. Some 30 rangers however remained behind and continued their work under the new ‘administration’. Late last year, the rebels advanced pushing their front further towards Goma. Rumangabo, the Virunga Park headquarters fell to the rangers after a fierce battle with government forces. More government supported rangers fled. Now the Virunga Park was under what seemed to be total control of the rebels.

A month or so before the rebels seized Rumangabo, Emmanuel de Merode, a Belgian national, had been appointed by the DRC government in order to restore the park authority’s [Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature-ICCN] credibility after the previous director, Honore Mashagiro, was fired and arrested on charges that he had participated in the charcoal and deforestation racket that resulted in the murder of 5 gorillas of the Rugendo family in July 2007.

Gorilla rwanda

Emmanuel got working immediately and negotiated an agreement that would allow the government supported rangers to return to their duty stations as neutral protectors of Virunga’s 200 or so gorillas and other wildlife. Emmanuel has started deploying his rangers into the park – which remains under control of rebels – and hopes to have 41 rangers in their stations and re-establish five 24-hour patrols.

One of the priorities for the rangers upon their return was to re-establish contact with the habituated ‘tourist groups’ of gorillas and to conduct a census. Surprisingly, despite 14 months without ‘care’ the gorillas have prospered. There are infants in most of the families so far visited and the final count of gorillas is expected to be higher than the current official number.

The same cannot be said about other wildlife. The hippo population for instance has plummeted from an estimated 30,000 to around 300

The rangers who stayed behind under Nkunda now claim that they are conserving the gorillas better than the government. They have accused ICCN rangers of being corrupt and greedy. They claim that more gorillas were killed when the government was in control than during their time. “The gorillas are safer now than they were before,” Pierre-Canisius Kanamahalagi, one of about 30 rangers who stayed behind, is quoted in the LA Times. “It was during the government control that so many were killed.”

The truth is that mountain gorilla populations have grown in the Virunga. There is even the discovery of a new family. The question is: is it because or despite of the rangers that work under Nkunda?

The ICCN has doubts about the ‘rebel’ rangers’ qualifications and political motives. “These rangers are not fully trained in gorilla-monitoring,” De Merode says in the LA Times report. “They’ve been a little cavalier.”

Park officials also have accused the rebels of attacking some rangers, often because of their ethnicity. Tutsi rangers, who are part of the same ethnic group as rebel leader Nkunda, were allowed to remain in the park, some say, though others were chased away.

The new arrangement where these two groups of rangers will work together is very desirable for the gorillas. The concern is that there is a heavy air of suspicion and second-guessing between the two. Will the good intentions of the two groups eventually win over their suspicions and rivalry? Will the gorillas and other wildlife fare better than before?

Garamba National Park in trouble and Nairobi bull fight is called off

We have all been inundated with images of the conflict raging in the Congo and how it has affected the Virunga National Park, rangers, gorillas and the forest not to mention other species.

Well today’s news  is both good and bad. The good news is that a new offensive against the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) has just been launched in Garamba National Park, also in Eastern Congo. For years the LRA which is led by Joseph Kony have been terrorising northern Uganda, southern Sudan and Congo, killing and maiming thousands of people. They are famed for the abduction of children leading to a nightly migration of children from villages into small towns where they sleep on the streets in huddles – for safety in numbers. Kony and his top commanders are accused by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of raping, mutilating and murdering civilians as well as forcibly recruiting child soldiers. Kony wants the charges dropped and has stalled peace negotiations with the Uganda’s government demanding that arrest warrants for him and his associates are dropped before any agreement can be struck.

The Ugandan news paper The New Vision, Reuters, BBC and Al Jazeera all report that yesterday morning, Uganda, South Sudan and DR Congo attacked the LRA in Garamaba forest in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The attack was backed by the American government and other Western powers. Initial reports say that the attack was successful, and Kony’s  main camp was set on fire.

The bad news? This fight is taking place inside a national Garamba Park.   is n’t any old park, it is a world heritage site, and home to the worlds last northern white rhino. It is also famed for its African elephant domestication programme started in the 1960s. Our thoughts are with our friends in Garamba who are working in extremely tough conditions.

Bull fighting called

I wrote earlier about a planned bull fight in Nairobi to celebrate the ‘Obama circuit’. Well, a public protest in Kenya seemed to have been quite effective and the fight was called off as it contravened Kenyas  Animal Welfare Act. I feel jubilant about this – perhaps the worlds and concerns of Kenyans matter to our authorities? Well I’m holding my breath on that one.  Today I was stopped on the highway by protestors against two much more nationally important issues, our politicians, though some of the most highly paid in the world, refuse to pay taxes, and they have just passed a bill in parliament to muzzle the press who have been condemning them for their greed.  The minister of information and communications who is accused of illegally taking tens of thousands of dollars in allowances, pushed the bill through. He is a trained journalist but obviously doesn’t like it when his illegal actiosn get exposed. Kenyans are outraged and protests are being met with force, over 40 journalists have been arrested and another 70 people were arretesd wearing for wearing T-shirst saying Yes to Members of Parliament paying taxes. As usual our president is silent on the matter though he will make the final decision. Muzzling the press will affect all of us, and our ability to get stories out whether about corruption, illegal trade in wildlife, or issues affecting our parks.  I came away from the protest feeling quite angry at how things seem to be going backwards when it comes to freedom of the press press. We’ve seen how it has held Zimbabwe back and kept us from getting up to date information about what is happening on the ground in all spheres.

US Troops “Using Choppers to Poach in Somalia”

Yes, it’s hard to believe, but two websites are reporting that military helicopters are leaving the battleships anchored off the Somalia coast to combat Somali pirates, and getting into the mainland to hunt wildlife illegally .

According to a report published today in one of the websites (Garoweonline.com), foreign choppers, which the the local Somali elders have not properly identified, arrived in three separate days and left with live specimens of ostrich and deer. The choppers were later seen landing in warships offshore. Although the elders have not been able to infallibly identify whose warships these are, one was seen to be flying the American flag.

In the other site (Mareeq.com), a reporter, Abdi Guled – despite writing in very bad English – almost certainly believes that the choppers bear the American banner. According to Guled’s report, the local authorities in the pirate infested central Somalia region are colluding with the purported hunters. Apparently, the local chiefs have signed contracts with foreign agencies to transact this illegal business.

The report on Garoweonline says that a local elder in the Maduq region of central Somalia, Mr Mohamed Hussein Warsame, has been interviewed by reporters from the BBC Somali Service about the trade. I have searched for the report on BBC website but I have not yet found it. AllAfrica.com, an aggregator of African news has also carried the report from Garoweonline.

While these might be outrageous allegations, we cannot rule out the possibility of this happening. We have seen foreign military and work forces getting involved in illegal activities in their outposts before. We have all heard the Chinese workforce in Africa being blamed for the escalation of ivory poaching in DRC, Zimbabwe and other states with dysfunctional governments.

If indeed this is happening, then it would be quite a shame. I hope the alleged BBC reporters who have the story can publish it so we can quote from a source perceived to be less biased. A source with a global voice. I hope other independent or big media house journalist can do an independent investigation into that matter. As long as they don’t get kidnapped by Somalia gunmen.

Will diplomacy solve the Congo crisis?

Over recent weeks there’s no doubt that rebel leader Laurent Nkunda’s and his CNDP troops have expanded their control creating even graver threat to the human population and the Virunga National Park. In this article in the International Herald Tribune describes the taking of Kibumba, formerly held by UN peace keepers and the Congolese military

“Kibumba is clearly theirs. Rebel soldiers were working with village elders on Friday to assess the damage caused by the departing government forces, who residents said picked clean dozens of homes and robbed the local bank, cracking open the safe and stealing the villagers’ savings. But Nkunda’s troops may have committed similar abuses.”

The EU has now decided not to send troops to the Congo or to reinforce MONUC but to handle the issue through diplomatic channels.

The United Nations is calling for a summit to be held in Nairobi, a neutral city. Indeed Nairobi has been the hub for peace talks for Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and the Congo in the recent past.

But will it work?

This quote from the Special Representative of the Secretary General in the DRC says it all

“It is not the peace agreements which make peace. It is of course the will of the signatories which makes peace.”

An online vote on the Monuc website reveals that 76% of voters do not believe that the Amani program will bring about lasting peace.

While Lindsey Hilsum of Channel 4 explains the history of the conflict rooted in the Rwanda genocide and raises an issue that so far has hardly touched the agenda – the struggle for resources as the root cause of the ongoing conflict.

“In 1994, a racist government told Rwanda’s majority Hutu people to massacre their Tutsi neighbours. It was genocide.

“When a new Tutsi-led regime took power, the Hutus, many of whom had taken part in the killing, fled to the Congo.

“War followed them: Rwanda’s Tutsi-led government pursued the Hutu genocidaires, who were hiding in the Congolese bush.

“The government of Congo joined forces with the Hutus. Four million died in the subsequent conflict.

“At one point five African countries were involved in the war in Democratic Republic of Congo. Local Tutsi rebels fighting Congolese forces were backed by troops from Rwanda and Uganda.

“The Congolese government then called on Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia, all of whom sent troops.

“The result was plunder and slaughter. Until a peace deal was signed, foreign armies, local warlords and government soldiers fought for control of mines producing tin, copper, coltan and cassiterite – valuable minerals.

“As foreign armies withdrew, new local warlords emerged, including Laurent Nkunda, a Congolese Tutsi backed by Rwanda. Last year, he celebrated a peace deal with the Congolese government.

“But now, he’s breached that. He says he’s trying to defeat the last of the Rwandese Hutu genocidaires, to protect the Tutsis. Others say he just wants power and money.

“Now, UN peacekeepers fear the conflict will spread, drawing in neighbouring countries once more.”

To be effective, the proposed Nairobi summit meeting has to be different. There have been peace talks, agreements, and ceasefires in recent years, yet none seem to have brought about lasting peace.

One analyst Elizabeth Dickenson writing for Foreign Policy writes in a short well armed piece

“The DRC sounds like a basket case — a mess of groups and interests fighting over land, pushing civilians back and forth in an endless humanitarian trap. This week’s violence is part of a long story that even most historians struggle to recount, one that began with the end of colonization, erupted after the Rwandan genocide, accelerated with the fall of President Mobutu Sese-Seko in 1997, and has seen the world’s largest United Nations peacekeeping force on the ground for the last 10 years. The International Criminal Court opened its first case against a warlord from the Congo conflict.

There is just one reason this war keeps going: Congo is one of the best-endowed countries in the world, with rich reserves of gold, cobalt, zinc, uranium, copper, and yes, oil. The former Belgian colonizers, the current Congolese government, the Rwandan government, the Ugandan government, and all the rebel groups that each party supports are funded and motivated by that wealth.

This is not a war of the innocent and the evil. It is a conflict of buyers and sellers in which the world is intimately involved. “

And she closes with

“Discussion and promises of peace can only stop the hemmorhaging for a short while. Until economics are part of the mix, Congo will continue to steadily bleed to death”.

The conflict is devastating the human population, destroying the natural assets of eastern Congo as valuable minerals are stripped, as well as destroying the environment in which now one million refugees are ekeing a living off. This will leave a lasting impact that is unlikely to attract global attention.

The view about the role of minerals in the conflict is shared by Patrick Alley co-founder of resources protection organisation Global Witness, called on the United Nations to take tougher steps to confront the problem.

Demand from resource-hungry countries like China had made it easier for African nations to sidestep schemes designed to stop insurgent groups from using profits from commodities to fund wars, he said.

Alley, a driving force behind efforts to outlaw the trade in “blood diamonds”, said a much broader approach was needed which banned the use of all natural resources to fund conflict not just by rebel groups but also governments.

It would need to be backed up by the threat of U.N. sanctions, he said.

“If you look at the biggest wars in Africa over the last decade-and-a-half they have all been resource wars and they have been characterised by some of the worst human rights abuses,” Alley said, citing a decade of conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo which has killed some 5 million people.

It’s hard to imagine how our colleagues in eastern Congo can operate and keep the Virunga National Park alive through this crisis. But they are trying to defend that great world heritage and the 200 mountain gorillas that live there.   They have launched an apppeal for humanitarian support for rangers and their families on gorilla.cd and we continue to raise fund for them on the gorilla protection blog here.