Dispatch #2 : A Report on the Wildlife of Eastern Congo, Page 2
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     After seven hours we reached Mambasa. It was too dark to continue. Fireflies were glancing
off the vizor of my helmet, and the sky was blazing with stars. We stopped at the Italian mission.
A good meal and a soft bed would be good about now, but it was not to be. The padre came out
and said he had visitors from Italy and was full up. He suggested the Hotel Des Pygmies, which
was beyond ratty. There was  one single bed on a concrete floor which Patrique and I shared. In
the morning I had to deal with the local immigration official, a man named Fredu who had been
there since Mobutu. "Vous ˆtes dans ma domaine migratoire," he declared, and tried to hit me up
for a $40 permis de s‚jour." I talked him down to twenty. He didn't have a pen to enter my name
in his little ledger and tried to pocket the one I lent him. The old cleptocratic ways die hard. "The
first to break the law are les responsables," one of RFO's administrators told me. "Fredu is one
of the old Mobutu people and it's not a touch of a magic wand that's going to change them. From
May 97 to August 98 the state functionaries were paid by Kabila. There was security and the
maintenance of the roads. People were starting to respect the authority of the state. Now there is
nostalgia even for Mobutu." Those contemplating giving aid to the Congo should bear in mind
that officials like Fredu are not the exception, but the rule. To understand how Congo got that
way, Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost is required reading. It has been since its creation
as the Congo Free State by the king of Belgium for the plunder of its ivory, rubber, and other
resources,  a shell state, a "half-made country," as V.S. Naipaul has called it, whose purpose is to
enrich whoever is in power, or as in the present moment, whatever neighbors are occupying it,
and their backers. 

     "You'll like Epulu. The okapi meat is delicious," Fredu told me, and one of his associates
offered me an ivory statuette of a nude that he said he had carved himself. 

EPULU

     We set off for Epulu.     The beginning of the rains had brought out butterflies galore. Big
tailless papilios with blue wing bars (Papilio nireus ?) were puddling in the moist sand. The last
lepidopterist to work here, John Douglas of the Field Museum, for a few month in l989 , found
three new species. The lepidofauna of the Ituri Forest was no less spectacular than it was when I
passed through here in l981 and is waiting for some ballsy lepidopterist to take up where Douglas
left off.  After three hours we crossed Kambale Kisuki's beautiful new bridge over the huge,
swollen Epulu River gushing through the forest. 

      On the other side of the bridge is the RFO headquarters, the old Okapi Capture Station of the
Belgians. It is a hauntingly beautiful spot, a version of the Garden of Eden or the Emerald Forest.
The old colonial buildings were trashed by Mobutu's retreating soldiers in l996, then by the
armies of both civil wars. They have been rehabilitated and added to by GIC and WCS and the
compound is very shipshape and impressive, an island of order and sanity in a sea of chaos.
Young Congolais intellectuels looked up and beamed from computers, a talented artist showed
me his cartoons of okapi, elephants, and soybeans for educational comic books. An old guard
named Abedi Morishu recognized me immediately from 19 years ago, remembered that I was the
one who walked through the forest from Nduye to Epini for tens days, and had spent a few days
at the station with the Harts. (My book In Southern Light, pp. 116-181, relates my trek through
the heart of the Ituri Forest and lays out a lot of the natural history and ethnography).

          I met the conservateur en chef, Jean Joseph Mapilanga, an extremely competent and
intelligent man who is "something we can work with," Terese Hart told me, and a great
improvement over some of his precedessors. Mapilanga has been at Epulu since l995. He told me
grimly, "In the 14 years I have worked for ICCN, the last year has had the worst conditions. Ivory
is being poached and coltan is being mined in our face. There is no authority. We have only ten
guns  eight Kalashnikov AK 47 and 2 Mozed 30's and 40 guards, ten of whom are too old to go
on patrol, and we need 250 guards and many more arms. We are having a major elephant
poaching crisis and there's nothing we can do about it."

      One of the old guards led me through an allee of 100ft Terminalia trees to the stone house
where Karl Ruf was staying, and where I would be quartered for the next four days. The Harts
had left in early August. It was a great shame that we didn't overlap, but I had visited them in
Booneville, on the other side of the Adirondacks from where I live, in July and we have been in
close touch since my return, and I was delighted to make the acquaintance of. Karl. He grew up in
Adelboden, in Switzerland's Berner Oberland. I spent many summer of my childhood in
Kandersteg, in the next valley. We had climbed many of the same peaks and passes so I knew
exactly where he was coming from. He has the humility, simplicity, and generosity of the
oberlander, and is a very special human being,  in my book, a fantastic guy. 

      Karl trained to be a zookeeper in Basel and was hired by Mobutu to put together his zoo in
Gabdolite, which he spent four years doing. In l983 he and his wife Rosie, traveling around Zaire
on their vacation, drove past the derelect Okapi station. Grass was growing through the floors.

      The history of Epulu  is very interesting and I suggested to Mapilanga that someone should
collect it while the last people who remember Putnam and Turnbull are still alive. A booklet like
the superb one WCS did for Rwanda's Nyungwe could be put together, laying out the natural and
human history and the ethnology of the Ituri Forest, and sold to tourists, once tourism resumes. 
In l991 8,000 tourists came to Epulu. Since then there has been barely a trickle.

     Patrick Tracy Lowell Putnam, 1903-53, was of old Brahman stock and according to Helen
Winternitz  "a great eccentric.... beset by bouts of genius and madness. He was also an
anthropologist ruined by dilettantism who never published any substantial work on the pygmies,
although he eventually gathered a vast store of knowledge about them." Arriving in the 30s,
Putnam founded a scientific research camp and hotel. He had a clinic where he vaccinated the
Mambuti pygmies and the local Bantu Babira farmers with whom they live in symbiosis. He
captured an okapi to show his guests. Putnam's Bambuti were inherited by the American
anthropologist Colin Turnbull, who wrote the classic "The Forest People" and visited Epulu on
off through the early seventies. In l979 came the Harts, a great young American couple, he to
study pygmies and okapis, she a botanist. John has boundless energy and infectious enthusiasm
and a deep love and understanding of the pygmies and the African mindset.  Terese has a sharp,
sophisticated scientific mind and an good overall picture of the multiple interacting forces
impacting the parks. Administrative, diplomatic, and political skills not  found in many natural
scientists have blossomed in her  decades of struggling for the RFO.  The prospect of working
with the Harts was one of the reasons I took this assignment.  The Harts lived in Putnam's old
house, on the other side of Epulu   and raised their children there. When I visited them 19 years
ago, we all took a swim in the river, right where in l994?  their daughter's tudor had  her arm
bitten off by a Nile crocodile, which have grown in size and number, perhaps migrating down
from the Nduye, in the l990s so that swimming in the Epulu is not such a good idea any more. 

       The Okapi Capture Station was founded in l952 by a man named Medina , to provide okapis
to zoos, and there was some effort to domesticate elephants and farm Nile crocodiles. Nearby was 
an elegant hotel  that expatriates in Kisangani thought nothing of driving to for the weekend. The
same trip today takes weeks. The Okapi Station was abandoned during the 64-66 rebellion. The
Simbas ate all 28 of the okapis. When Karl and Rosie Ruf passed through in l983, they thought
what a great idea it would be to fix the place up and get it going again. "We knew all the zoos
were interested in fresh okapis  there were only 70 in a captivity   so we got them to invest in
a conservation project where in situ and ex situ you protect the animal in the wild," Karl
explained. "12 zoos in the U.S. and 8 in Europe are contributing $5000 each a year which is used
to breed okapis here and to provide infrastructure like new guard posts. Three of the okapis are at
GIC's White Oak Plantation in Florida. San Diego and Brookfield and Cincinatti zoos have sent
their females to breed with them, and the whole consortium decides where the babies go.
Wupperdal in Germany, for instance, has too inbred males so we are sending them  a fresh one."

       GIC has been paying the guards $50 a month, with bonuses, $42 of which will now be paid
for by UNF, freeing up the GIC to fund pensions for the retired guards, to recruit new guards,
and to improve conditions for the people in Epulu, of whom 1500, the dependents and extended
families of RFO's employees, local merchants, etc.,  Karl estimates already benefit from the
$26,000 a month that GIC has been bringing in. Until his death a few years ago, the 60 pygmies
on GIC's payroll would send paper baron turned conservationist John Gilman their thumbprints in
gratitude  at Christmas.

       In 1996 Mobutu's retreating soldiers looted $300,000 of vehicles, radios, and other
equipment at the station. Karl stayed till the last moment and barely escaped, jumping into a
friend's plane in Mombasa with a jeep full of FAZ in hot pursuit. Things calmed down, and Karl
returned to pick up the pieces. In August 98 he had to bale out again. This time he was picked up
by Frazer Smith. 

       "In the last five  months," Karl told me, "the elephant poaching has gotten completely out of
hand. Congolais deserters and regulars in league with the local chefs coutoumiers are doing most
of it, but Ugandan officers are also involved. The soldiers keep the ivory, and the chefs keep the
meat, so everybody is against the park.  Some of the poachers are given arms and shells by the
Congolese military to hunt for them. Shabani, a good hunter, is known to buy his shells from
soldiers. There is a big secret trade in guns and ammunition in the territory."

       Elephants have always been hunted in the Ituri Forest. Traditionally pygmies ran up under the
elephant and plunged  spears into its belly. With the advent of the Kalashnikov, during the Mulele
rebellion, it became possible to mow down an entire herd with the squeeze of a trigger and the
carnage escalated exponentially. When I flew into Isiro in l981 there was a huge stack of tusks
lying on the runway, waiting to be loaded. They belonged to one of Mobutu's officers. One of the
local Balese men who took me into the forest for eleven days was planning to start a little store in
his village with the proceeds of the tusks he had paid some pygmies to get for him. Killing an
elephant was then, and still is, one of the few ways to get ahead. Then with the IUCN's ban on
international trade ivory in l988, the poaching fell way off.  But in the early 90s there was a gold
rush, and  huge mining camps sprang up that were provisioned with elephant meat. Now the gold
was just about gone, and everyone was digging for coltan. There was a camp with several
thousand miners at Badendaido, 60 kilometers to the west. Soldiers were selling them elephant
meat.  10 of the top RCD command in Mambasa were instigating a lot of the poaching. 

      Mapilanga showed me the latest report on poaching in and around the park from March to
August, illustrated with maps that displayed a high order of computer-graphics expertise. 16 stars
marked the hot spots : where there were reports of signs of poachers or contact between them
and the guards. Two were elephant carcasses found within ten km of Epulu. Elephants fleeing the
poaching were coming out of the forest and raiding the shambas, and someone had shot them.
Who was "not yet elucidated," Mapilanga told me.   Diagonal slashes marking intense poaching
activity etched the roads along the southern and eastern borders of the park,  and part of western,
halfway up to Wamba; scored most of the center of the park and spread southeast three quarters
of the way down along the Mambasa-Beni road that I had come up on. 

      The only solution, it was becoming increasingly clear, was a full-scale military operation to
clean up the poaching. It would have to be headed by Ugandans, because it if was only RCD it
would be too tempting for them not to join in on the braconnage. To this end, the UPDF
commandant in Bunia, Colonel Angina, had been approached, and he was receptive to the idea. 
While I was there, the RF0 management met in an emergency session and had their final debate on
whether to go ahead with the operation. The protectors of the park were already none too
popular in certain quarters, and if they started to come down on the chefs coutoumiers and the
guys with the guns it could be very dangerous for them. But it was either that or lose the
elephants, and what were they there for ? In the end everyone at the meeting  voted uninamously
and without hesitation to go ahead with the operation. 

       The plan was to hire 40 soldiers, both UPDF and RCD, for three months.. GIC would foot
the $15,000 bill. The ten corrupt RCD commanders in Mombasa would be replaced, and the thirty
soldiers under them, who brought them the ivory from the poachers, would be recruited into the
anti-poaching force. If necessary the soldiers could be kept going with rations for a year.  The
ultimate goal was to establish the permanent presence of an authority with the threat of deadly
force. The first targets were the hot spots, the 16 stars. Mapalinga had the names of the most
notorious poachers. They would be arrested, and their guns would be given to the guards. "We
need 30 automatic weapons and 3000 shells," Mapilanga told me. "The northern part of the park
has never been controlled. We need stations at Wamba and Digbo, and to get five guards,
working 15-day shifts, back to Moto Moto, as they did before the debut of the second war."
Moto Moto is a village in the heart of the forest whose main raison d'etre, when I visited it 19
years ago, was to sell bushmeat to Wamba, and still is.

      The latest news from Karl Ruf, who is back at White Oaks,   is good (I phoned him on
October 20) : 30 soldiers reached Mambasa, the corrupt ten commanders were out of there, and
in two days two guns, 150 kilos of ivory, and two of the big poachers had been captured. 

***

      At 5 a.m. on Monday the 23rd I went into the forest  with Robert Mwinyihali, the
administrator of CEPRECOF,  partner of WCS, and Terese Hart's right-hand man, an extremely
intelligent and dynamic young Congolese intellectuel. Robert is coordinating the zoning of the
villages around the park, a vital but massive task, with the help of a $65,000 grant from USAID.
With us was  a forester named FidŠle, who knew the scientific names of many of the plants and
obviously loved his work. We passed some huge thickets of native bamboo that had been
trampled flat by elephants who eat the young shoots.   14" high white mushrooms that were not
edible. "They'd make your tongue hang out," FidŠle told me.  Others equally tall with brown stars
on their caps. The mushrooms are as unstudied as the butterflies. The pygmies eat many species,
including a species of chantrelle  which they call kebekebe and eat raw, especially when they have
no store salt because it has a salty taste. We found masses of kebebeke under some
Gilbertiodendron  trees. They looked indistinguishable from the orange chantrelles of the
Adirondacks and the steinpils of the Alps. How what appeared to be the same mushroom could
be growing here is one of the many mysteries of the Ituri Forest.  I gathered some and cooked
them up for dinner and they were scrumptious. Some edible species from the Ituri Forest are sold
in Beni and Butembo. I suggested to Karl that with a small investment in a dehydrator you could
sell little jars of dried mushrooms labeled picked by the pgymies in the Ituri, proceeds going to the
World Heritage Site in danger, for ten dollars apiece easy, and he said, "Maybe by the time
stability comes we can think of such things." 

    We passed some chimp nests. There are 13 species of primate in the RFO, and eleven species
of duiker, the dimunitive forest antelope, some noctural, some diurnal. FidŠle pointed out the knee
prints of a  elephant, a solitary old male,  that had slept there, then slid ten feet down the path. 
In l995 John Hart estimated that there were 5688 elephants in RFO's 7200 km2, or .79 per km2,
greater than the density of Maiko or PNKB. But he wouldn't hazard a guess as to how many
there are now. He has been contracted to monitor the elephant populations and illegal killing in
Cameroun, Gabon, and Congo for CITES. RFO, PNG, and PNKB are also on CITES's official
danger list, and Hart will be working closely with UNF's biodiversity and law-enforcement
monitoring programs, and will soon have a better idea of the impact of the poaching in RFO. 
About a hundred elephants are known to have been poached, but the actual number is probably
much greater. This part of the forest was a maze of fresh elehphant trails. The okapis, of
which Hart estimated there were 3456, are more elusive and are probably faring better.

     This "ellie," as a delightful Englishman I met in Garamba calls them, had come to eat the
young saplings of saplings of Gilbertiodendron dewevrei, which the pygmies, for whom it is  an
important honey tree, call mbau.  The mbaus, in the Caesalpiniaceae family of the legumes,  are
among the grandest and most ubiquitous trees in the forest and are also an important source of
timber. Their eight-inch pods, which supposedly kept Henry Morton Stanley's Emin Pasha Rescue
Expedition from starving when it passed through the Ituri Forest in l887, and broad brown leaves
littered the forest floor. 

     We reached the research camp at Lenda from which CEFREKOF's botanical team has been
studying two ten-hectare plots, in which Gilbertiodendron is dominant, since l994. (Two other
ten-hectare plots of mixed forest elsewhere are also under study.)  The research is funded mostly
by WCS and is shared with the Smithsonian Institution's Center for Tropical Forest Science,
which has plots around the world. "We census everything that's woody from one centimeter in
diameter up," Robert explained. "We were the first to include stranglers and lianas. We have
found 689 species in all four plots, of which 242 are lianas  more than in Panama and India, but
fewer than in the Amazon and some parts of Malaysia." Recently a tree in the Sapotaceae family
and in a genus previously found only in South America was discovered. The girths of 1000 trees
in a 20 by 100 meter transect are regularly measured to get an idea of their carbon intake rate, and
the flowering and fruiting times of 434 individual trees  in both plots are being recorded with the
help of the pygmies, who have their own names for all the 40 species to which they belong. 
This basic information will enable the researchers to understand the movement of the ellies and
other animals in the forest, and in the process of gathering it a new generation of Congolais 
conservationist is being trained. 

      The researchers had already left for the study plots, and rather than try to hook up with them,
we decided to return via one of the coltan mines in the forest, which was several hours'
bushwack. Terese has been gathering information on the coltan mining and its impact on the
wildlife in RFO and PNKB and suggested I pay a visit to one of the carri‚res. We are both
interested in learning the extent to which what is going on in Congo is a resource war in the guise
of a civil war. A pygmy named Asani, whose father Kenge was immortalized by Turnbull, led us
through the maze of elephant trails (many of them culs-de-sac) and pygmy honey trails. We
surprised a troop of Colobus badius monkeys at a salt deposit. There ae about 10,000 pygmies in
the Ituri Forest, one of the largest populations in the world, and to me they are as great a treasure
as the wildlife. The Bambuti are allowed to  hunt duikers and facochŠres (which are what Terese?) 
in the park with traditional methods, nets and snares, to feed their families. Asani had helped
John Hart pit-trap and radio-collar 20 okapis in l988-90, which provided the first scientific
information about their range and habits. Like what ? 

      We announced our arrival at the mining camp by whooping and  banging a stake against the
thin, flaring buttress of an Eko julbernardia tree. The camp was called Bomalibala, Lingala for the
camp that causes divorce, because "any woman who comes here puts her hearth in danger," one
of the miners told me. There was a  barrier manned the camp's militia, teenagers with carved
wooden machineguns. It was a colorful scene, a village of thatched-mangungu-leaf shanties and
smokey fires, on which women, many of them young and pretty, were cooking dried fish and
beans. Most of the men were off mining coltan. The chief was passed out from drink and unable
to see us, but his porte-parole, his spokesman, told us that there were about 150  residents in the
camp. The miners were mostly autochthonous Babira, but there were some from Bafwasende.
The girls came from all over  Banande, Babudu, Babale, Balese, Bandaka. Some stayed a day or
two, some stayed longer.  They came with sacks of food and cooked for the men and danced and
drank and slept with them and departed with little plastic bags of coltan. The miners made little or
nothing for their labor, which is also the case with the people who kill the elephants.  The
spokesmen showed me a bagful of  heavy, irrisdescent-black flakes and nuggets of the metal,
which was worth $25 to $30 a kilo. The Harts had found buyers from South Kivu in this camp.
This was top dollar, I later learned, so the coltan must have been pretty pure. Once it reaches
Epulu, it is taken by the kumba kumba, the small traders who push bicycles laden with produce
and pedal and coast down the muddy tracks for several days  to Beni and Bunia. Some of it goes
to Kampala, some to Kigali. Where it ends up, and how much it is worth when it gets there, was
something that Terese and I were eager to learn. "We don't know what it is for or where it goes,"
the spokesman told me. "We are mining it because gold is scarce. This is not a village of family
ties, but of mutual interest. We have an established order, a commandant and our own police.
Thieves and sorcerers are rejected. We don't accept the killing of okapis or elephants, but
sometimes soldiers come with elephant meat, and we are obliged to accept it. The people at the
station want us to leave, but to go where and do what ? We can't support ourselves by growing
food or fishing because the roads are abim‚es. More and more of us are leaving our villages and
going into the forest in the quest to survive."

      There are about 50 such camps in the RFO. As we walked back out to Epulu, we came across
half a dozen men who were digging up a streambed and shoveling the alluvium into halved-log
sluices. The destruction was appalling but confined to 50 yards of the streambed which would
probably recover after several rainy seasons.  A hard-working miner could make $15 a day at this
even he didn't give his coltan to the women  big bucks in this part of the world. 

***

     Karl Ruf gave me a tour of the station's well-stocked and manned dispensary, the experimental
plots of nitrogen-fixing legumes with which the villagers will eventually be able to prolong the life
of their shambas and thus reduce the pressure on the forest, the cane-rat breeding program,  the
beautiful new school GCI had built, the springs that provided water to the villages that GCI is
cleaning up, the overgrown airstrip that he had cleared in l995 and was applying to the authorities
in Bunia for a permit to reopen. One of Epulu's chief, whose name was Bakotila, gave me a
different tour. He took me to the village's empty dispensary, at one time but no longer supported
by an Italian ngo,  where a young man, down with malaria,  was trying to ride out his splitting
headache. "The people demand care, but there is no medicine, no pay for the nurses or the
teachers, because the state has no means," said Bakotila.. We called on Kenge, who was prostrate
with grief because his wife had been killed a few weeks earlier by a falling tree in the shambas, and
visit the pygmy camp of Mayanimingi. The women had acquired a taste for pots and metal
cooking ware since my last visit, but otherwise their happy-go-lucky way of life seemed little
changed. They danced for me, and all too soon it was time to leave Epulu.

       Considering the pressures on RFO, morale among its protectors is remarkably high, although
the collaboration of certain individuals could be better.. The only complaint I heard is that funds
are not getting to the site in an expeditious manner. The emergency funds promised by UNESCO
in January, l999 have yet to arrive. 
 
 

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