Dispatch #2 : A Report on the Wildlife of Eastern Congo
The original version for the United Nations Foundation
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For those who want to go more deeply into the situation in eastern Congo, here is the 26,000-word site report I delivered to the United Nations Foundaton in October of last year. It contains the greatest detail on the status of the parks and their wildlife and on the coltan trade. 

A Report on the Four World Heritage Sites In Danger in Eastern Congo : 
Biodiversity Conservation in the Vortex of Civil War
by Alex Shoumatoff 

On August 20 of the year 2000, on assignment from the United Nations Foundation,  I set outon  a 25-day tour of  three national parks (Virunga, Garamba, and Kahuzi Biega) and one faunalreserve (Okapi) in the rebel-held  eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.  These four magicalpreserves are UNESCO World Heritage sites, and UNF is contributing $ 2.8 million, with another$1.2 million in matching funds verbally comitted from the European Union, to the heroic effort tokeep them going during the two civil wars that have ravaged the DRC (see glossary of acronyms) since l996. UNF had asked me to make an independent site report as the funds are about to bedisbursed.

       The magnificent primeval rainforests and savannas in these preserves are among  the last,  insome cases the last redoubts of some of the most extraordinary animals on the planet,  crownjewels of the animal kingdom like   the mountain gorilla,    the okapi (the secretive forest giraffewhich eluded scientists until l902), the northern white rhino (of which  only around 30 are left),and the  Congo peafowl (Africa's only pheasant, whose closest relatives are in Asia and whosediscovery in  l938  was one of the ornithological events of the century). They are also havens for aspectrum of rebels and renegades collectively known as "the negative forces," for whom theyprovide both cover and meat.  These include  ex-FAR, FAZ, and ADFL deserters (see Glossaryof Acronyms at the end of the piece); Interhamwe (the extremist Hutu youth militiamen who carriedout much of the l994 genocide in neighboringRwanda); Mayi Mayi (who are dedicated to driving out the Ugandan and Rwandan foreignersfrom Congo);  Ugandan NALU and ADF rebels from the  Ruwenzori Mountains (who predate thecurrent hostilities); and assorted non-alligned bandits. Joining them in the decimation the wildlifeare local poachers, miners of a rare mineral called coltan that is in great demand in the modern world,RCD, UPDF, and RPA regulars, SPLA deserters and regulars. 

        The guards in these embattled parks, having been disarmed and their radios, vehicles,and other equipment looted by the various armies that have swept through, are barely able to stem a smallpart of the poaching. Poaching is uncontrolled in most of  PNV, PNKB, both of whom have hadguards killed in recent attacks by negative forces, and a UPDF-RCD military operation has just gotten underway  to clean up the brazen poaching in RFO. The surveys of the animal populationsthat have managed to be conducted are extremely distressing : the hippo herd of Virunga Park,thirty-five thousand strong in l983, the largest in the world, now numbers 700-800. The elephantsand buffalo in Garamba have been cut in half, as have the lowland gorillas in the highland part ofPNKB (no one knows how many of the four to eight thousand gorillas in the Interahamwe-infested lowland part remain). Early this year the elephants were poached out of the highland partof PNKB.

       The UNF project, which PNG's Kes Frazer and RFO's Terese Hart spent more than a yeardesigning, unites the four parks under the prestigious political and diplomatic umbrella of theUNESCO World Heritage Convention, and  gives desperately needed teeth to their well-deservedclassification as places  of "outstanding universal value... for whose protection it is the duty of theinternational community as a whole to co-operate." It imposes a uniform conservation strategy foreach of these very different biotopes, so that the conservationists involved in their protection willbe able to compare notes, and the hope  is that it wil eventually serve as a model for biodiversityconservation in all zones of armed conflict. The highest priority being to stop the slaughter of thewildlife, most of the funding is going directly to the anti-poaching effort, to paying,  equipping,and giving paramilitary training to the embattled park  guards and rewarding them with bonusesfor work well done.  It provides a uniform   law enforcement and biodiversity monitoring systemfor inventorying the animal populations and mapping, with sophisticated computer graphics, themovements of the poachers, so the patrols can be   most effectively deployed.  There is somemoney for local community-based "participatory" conservation programs : investing the peoplewho live on the borders of the park in its continued existence and simply improving their lot, sothey can have alternatives to exploiting its resources. Finally, a sustainable funding mechanism willbe  sought to keep these initiatives going after the four-year project ends. The money will flowthrough the American and European ngo's who have been supporting the parks during this criticalperiod. The carefully thought out details are laid out in the 41-page document, with its threeannexes of charts maps. 


          The parks have been in rebel territory since the outbreak of the second civil war in August,1998 split the country in two. Cut off from their administrative headquarters, the ICCN inKinshasa, they have been on their own except for the support of  international ngo's like WCS,GIC, WWF, GTZ, IRF, ICGP, and DFGF (do I have them all ?).  The rebels had belonged to theAFDL which overthrew the long-time dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in May, l997 (concluding thefirst civil war, known as the war of liberation).  Zaire became the DRC, and  Laurent Kabilainstalled himself as  president.   The following summer,  Kabila fell out with his former allies,particularly those of Rwandan or Congolese Tutsi ethnicity, against whom he declared a pogrom,and they launched the second civil war whose goal is to remove him. The RCD, consisting ofCongolese Tutsi and other Congolese opposed to Kabila and supported by Rwanda and Uganda,quickly took control of the eastern half of the country, but by the end of l998 they  had split intothree  factions  : RCD- Goma, which is backed by Rwanda; RCD-Kisangani and the MLC, both ofwhich which are backed by Uganda. RFO, PNG, and the northern part of PNV are in the RCD-ML, Uganda-controlled zone. The southern part of Virunga and Kahuzi Biega are in the RCD-Goma, Rwanda-controlled zone.
     In June a diplomatic mission consisting of Drs. Jean-Pierre d'Huarte and Terese Hartpresented the UNF's four-year project to the powers-that-be in Kinshasa, Kampala, Kigali, Bunia,Goma, and Bukavu. My mission was a follow-up : to guage how supportive the local authoritieswere to the project, and to the notions of   biodiversity conservation and protecting  worldheritage in general. I was also to ascertain the morale of the guards and the rest of the park staffand how effectively that were able  to do their job; to learn what I could about who was doing thepoaching, how much was going on,   how many animals are killed, and about civil war's and otherimpacts on the parks.  The subtext was, as UNF's Nicholas Lapham put it, we want to know ifwhat we're doing is  a good idea.  Other environmental foundations bale out when civil war breakouts in the areas they have been supporting.  Is our project going to work ?


      My conclusion is that this is probably the most useful and important money the UNF will ever
spend.  Eastern Congo is one of the flashpoints of the global struggle to maintain biodiversity.
According to a recent survey of mortality in eastern Congo by the International Red Cross, 1.8
million people have died in the last two years,  either directly or indirectly due to the second civil
war.  There are about the same number of idp's (internally displaced people) in the country at
large. The American Ambassador to Kenya, John Carson, told me in Nairobi, "the situation in
eastern Congo in the last two years is as bad as or worse than Sierra Leone. But no one is able to
get in, so the level of human-rights violations and sheer atrocity and human abuse of other human
beings is largely invisible. People are not systematically having their hands chopped off, but they
are being systematically killed with bullets and machetes." 

       No one knows how many animals have been killed in this anarchic situation. Like the humans,
there are animal refugees (elephants fleeing fleeing the mayhem in Congo to Uganda's Queen
Elizabeth Park), genocides of elephants and other species by former g‚nocidaires, and animal
marauders (elephants fleeing poachers to the safety of the villages have been  raiding the shambas
of Epulu, where RFO is headquartered).  The situation at PNKB is beyond critical : the day before
I got there a team that was mapping the park's boundaries was attacked by  Interahamwe. 9  were
killed and four taken hostage. PNV is if possible even more menaced by local and negative force
poaching and invasion by farmers and cattlekeepers. One guard was killed and another kidnaped a
few weeks before my visit in the relatively secure southern sector where the mountain gorillas are. 
The elephants in the RFO are being decimated by poachers armed by  RCD-ML and Ugandan
officers and by hunters for the coltan mining camps.  The RFO guards don't have the arms or
training  to confront  the poachers, and haven't had any alternative but to turn tail when they meet
on a jungle path. But the early results of the military operation are promising.  Perhaps they will
be able to turn the situation around. PNG, with the least local population pressure and no resident
negative forces and an organized and motivated anti-poaching program, is in the best shape.  As
we flew over its savanna,  Kes and Fraser Smith spotted four new rhinos, and the indexes of
poaching activity  fresh carcasses,  shootouts  are down in the last few months.   But this
could change at any moment, if  the civil war in DRC or the long-standing one in neighboring
Sudan takes a turn for the worse, and the next army sweeps through.

        The bad news is that Congo is probably going to keep disintegrating. It won't be sorting
itself out anytime soon,  because neither Kabila nor any the three rebel factions have the military
strength, popular support, or  leadership  to unite its 450 ethnic groups. The civil  war will drag
on,  anarchy will prevail, and in the absence of any rule of law or unified military control, the
negative forces, not to mention the relatively positive ones   the local people with little access to
other sources of  protein or income   will slaughter many more animals. . 

        The good news  is that in each of these parks a dedicated team of guards,  conservators, and
expatriate scientists and wildlife managers (known as the coop‚rants) is  putting their lives on the
line for these irrepleaceable species, and they deserve and desperately need all the support UNF
and anybody else can give them, not to mention the gratitude of mankind. They are genuine
heroes.   Which is not to say that they do not have their differences in ideology, personality, and
expertise. Congolais-Congolais, Congolais-coop‚rant, and coop‚rant-coop‚rant lines of tension
were in evidence at each of the sites,   accentuated by the stress of ominipresent personal danger..
There are those who believe that the animals come first, and that  the limited resources available
from international sources should be devoted to keeping them from being exterminated. And
those who believe that the people come first, and that the animals will never be safe  unless you
improve the conditions of the people who live around the parks. Some are focused on anti-
poaching, some on social programs, some on long-term baseline scientific research and training a
new generation of Congolais conservationists, some on immediate, practical conservation
measures. But all these approaches are equally valid and important and ultimately complementary,
and the remarkable people who struggling to protect these priceless sites  have a great deal  to
offer and learn from each other. The beauty of the UNF project is that it provides a framework for
them to do so. 

       The most impressive quality of the project's collaborators to me was their courage and their
commitment.  "If I have a run in with the negative forces, c'est l'horoscope," one told me.
"Chacun a sa chance,"  said another, while a third mused about a life-threatening undertaking,
"And if I die, just bury me somewhere in the forest." High risk is part of this job description. You
can expect  to be wiped out, to have everything you have worked for completely destroyed and to
have to start again at zero, and to have to flee for your life at least once if you're contemplating a
career in conservation in this part of the world.  I think there is an unwritten code among this very
special breed of conservationists, a sort of Hippocratic oath that they all take to themselves : no
matter how bad it gets, you don't give up. 


       The Congolais collaborators call RFO's Terese Hart, PNKB's Kes Frazer, and PNV's
Annette Langouw les femmes de fer,  and before I crossed the border into the RCD at Gisenyi,
Rwanda, I stopped to pay my respects to Ross Carr, one of the prototypic courageous white
women in central Africa. (See my book, African Madness, pp. 32-33) A radiant soul now in her
eighties, Mme. Carr was a close friend of and undoubtedly a role model for Dian Fossey. She
came to Rwanda in l949 and has lived there ever since except for when she had to leave during
the genocide.  She still has her flower farm in the hills of above Lake Kivu, she told me, but now
she is devoting herself to her orphanage on the shore of the lake, where she takes care of 100
children whose parents were killed during the madness. She knows them all by name, and each of
their stories. 

       That evening in Goma I met with Dr. Vizima Karaha, the chief of security and intelligence for
RCD-Goma. After Mobutu's overthrow by the AFDL, Karaha became Kabila's foreign minister, 
the youngest foreign minister in the world, he told me. (We met in Kinshasa in May, l997, as the
ADFL came in. See my article, "Mobutu's Final Days," Vanity Fair August l997). But he is a
Munyamulenge. The Banyamulenge are Tutsi pastoralists who came from Rwanda, in the case of
Karaha's family eight generations ago, and settled on the high plateau above Uvira, on the
western shore of LakeTanganyika, and on the plains between Masisi and Rutshuru. But they and
the other Congolais tribes of Rwandese "expression," collectively known as Banyawranda, are
permanent foreigners, of "dubious nationality," and have never been accepted by the rest of the
Congo as one of them. Karaha was poisoned and barely survived, and after Kabila turned against
the Banyawranda, he joined the RCD. Saving the animals and protecting the parks is clearly not a
priority of any of the three rebel factions, who are focused on winning the war, but Karaha
realizes the importance of these populations and their habitats to the international community, and
he pledged to help the project in any way he could, starting with an offer to provide me with a
military escort when I returned to visit PNV in two weeks. 

          Since the second war began, Karaha told me, 30,000 Rwandese Hutu have been
repatriated from North Kivu, and 8,000 from South Kivu, but there are still many Interahamwe
and their hostages in the region, thousands more in PNV and PNKB. His position, like that of
many Congolais I spoke to, is that the United Nations and the Americans created the problem by
failing to separate and disarm the Interahamwe and the ex-FAR in the refugee camps, so it was
their responsibility to solve it. In the fall of l994, hundreds of thousands of Hutu, fearing reprisal
for the genocide they had just committed from the advancing Tutsi-dominated RPA, poured over
the border at Goma, and were settled in 4 refugee camps that were kept going for two years by
the UNHCR and humanitarian ngos. The Interahamwe and ex-FAR ran the camps and launched
attacks from them in Rwanda and on the local Banyawranda, until October l996, when the
Banyamulenge with the help of the RPA broke up the camps. Most of refugees poured back into
Rwanda, but the hard-core g‚nocidaires fled west with hostages, and the RPA pursued them,
bent on revenge. Tens of thousands were massacred around Kisangani, but thousands installed
themselves in and around the parks and have still not been captured and are wreaking havoc on
the animals and the local people. As the RPA pursued the g‚nociadires, they slaughtered many
innocent Congolais. In August, l998 Kabila's troops had a retaliatory pogrom of all the Tutsi they
could get their hands on, which was followed by more massacres of Congolais by the RCD as it
retook the eastern half of the country. So the hatred of Rwandans in eastern Congo, the
humiliation many citizens feel at being occupied by "Nilotics," (most of Congo's 450 ethnic
groups are Bantu) at this point is unbounded. One the project's Congolais collaborators has a
theory that the UN and the Americans are so guilty about having done nothing to stop the
genocide or to disarm the refugees that they have given Rwanda the Congo in retribution.

      The outcome of the civil war depends on whether Kabila and his allies are able to keep the
rebels from taking Mbandaka. If Mbandaka falls, Kinshasa is next. Southeast of Mbandake is the
36,000 square-mile Salonga National Park, the largest protected tropical forest on earth, home to
the pygmy chimanzee or bonobo, the Congo peafowl, the forest elephant, and the slender-snouted
or false crococile. Salonga is also a beneficiary of the UNF project, but being in the government-
held part of Congo and so far relatively unscathed by the war and very difficult to get to, it is not
in the purview of this report. But when the fight for Salonga begins in earnest, Salonga could be
in serious danger. 


       The next morning, August 21, I flew over PNV to Beni, which is in the RCD-ML zone,
overland travel from Rutshuru to Kanyabayanga not recommended. There had been several recent
incidents of  Interhamwe burning vehicles and killing their passengers. Anti-Rwandese sentiment 
was running high in Beni and expressed more openly than in Rwanda-controlled Goma.  I asked
local agent of TMK, the airline I had flown in on,  what happened to the 33,000 hippos in the
park and he answered wryly, "We have replaced them with Tutsis, the species that you support." 

      The slaughter of the hippos began when Mobutu's unpaid soldiers mutinied at the end of l991
and turned their weapons on the huge herd and forced the dried  meat on the local people, making
them buy it at gunpoint. "Before that our people had never had a taste for game," I learned from 
Kambale Kisuki, the RCD-ML's Adjunct Commissar of Infrastructures. (All the high officials are
commissars because as the vice-commissar of defense Thomas Luhaka later explained to me in
Bunia, "We are still in the struggle. If we get the country we will become ministers.".) 
Kisuki is a very good man, and a very important one for the future of the parks. Having worked
for WWF for eight years at RFO, he is a dedicated conservationist. But he is also a savvy
politician who knows how to navigate the unstable politics in this zone and get things done.
Kisuke had just repaved the main street of Beni and built a beautiful new wooden bridge across
the Epulu, a photograph of which he had reproduced on his calling card.

      At the moment, he told me, there were 13,000 refugees in Beni who were fleeing NALU and
ADF rebels who had swept down from the Ruwenzori, the fabled Mountains of the Moon. 
The negative forces around Kanyabayonga, on the western edge of the park,  had driven 110,000
i.d.p's  toward Lubero, and a major humanitarian crisis was looming as it was impossible to get
food aid to them. Poaching, encroachment, and banditry are unchecked in northern sector of the
park, which extends above Lake Edward, and the central sector down to Rutshuru, as the guards
are not armed or paid and have no vehicles and it is impossible for them to make patrols. Only the
guards guarding the mountain gorillas in southern sector are paid by IGCP, the ones in north
haven't seen a paycheck since the wars began and "morale is very low. They are in la misŠre
totale and pas motiv‚."  The Shango-Kaviniango section of the park on the western side of the
lake is completely destroyed by Nande who have planted shambas. Several thousand  Hema 
cattlekeepers from Uganda, and escorted by UPDF, have invaded north of the lake at Karuruma.
(I would learn more about conditions in PNV on my return to Goma, see page 26 ff..)

      I also spoke with  an assistant conservateur from Maiko National Park named Valentin
Kambale-Kipiri Dilere, which has been completely abandoned. Maiko is the southern extension of
the Ituri Forest, and it has okapi, too, as well as thousands of  lowland gorillas and how many ?
Congo peafowl. It was proposed as World Heritage Site but kind of fell through the cracks,
because there was no in situ coop‚rant like the Harts or the Smiths to push it through.  The Harts
are trying to rectify this situation. Dilere told me that there is "no morale in Maiko. The guards
have scattered." There is a relict population of several hundred Simbas in the forest. The Simbas
were the nativist-primordialist Maoist rebels who during the Mulele rebellion of l963-5 killed
whites and anybody with glasses, or a pen in their shirt pocket who was therefore tagged a
westernized ‚volu‚. The young Laurent Kabila was one of their commanders. The Mayi Mayi are
their idealogical decendants. The rebellion was put down by equally horrible European
mercenaries. In the early 90s a Congolais collaborator of the Harts who was trying to find out the
density and distribution of the okapi, elephants, and gorillas in Maiko, was kidnaped by some
Simbas. He was traded for a sewing machine. Dilere told me that most of the Simbas had just
surrendered to the RCD and were in Beni, being rehabilitated and recruited into the army. "We
wait along the Simbas' paths for them to come out of the jungle for food," Dilere went on. "I
killed many of them with my Uzi."


      Kisuke said I better get going if I wanted to make Epulu by nightfall so I hopped on the back
of a motambusi a motorcycle taxi, also known as a pici pici, which was actually a flashy red
dirtbike,  driven by a 20-year-old named Patrique. We took off for Epulu down a slick red mud
track speeding through villages, that was all that was left of the old Belgian colonial road. The
road was, as Patrique put it,  impracticable. We passed a truck that had been mired in mud for
two days. A team of shirtless barefoot men digging it out. The driver was sitting in his cab in a
spanking white outfit. It is specified in his contract that he doesn't have to dig. Women had
materialized with food. It ws a whole little scene.

       In the days of the Belgians Congo's roads were so smooth that the Belgian road
superintendent would speed down them with a glass of water on his dashboard, and if a drop
spilled, the local sous-chef in charge of keeping up that section would get a beating. When I
passed through here 19 years ago, the roads were already in a state of advanced deterioriation.
Now they were completely abim‚es. Mobutu hadn't kept them up because he wanted to make it
as difficult as he could for anybody to get to Kinshasa and overthrow him. This had its positive
side.  From the point of view of keeping down poaching and lumbering, Mobutu was a great
friend of the conservation effort. 

      Patrique expertly skirted gaping holes and threaded knife-edged ridges between pools of
water, flailing away with his black rubber booted feet at the passing ground, not wasting a second
or making a wrong move, as if he were in a race. The villages became fewer and farther between
the walls of trees and scrub. By 3:30, south of Tetuye,  we topped a rise and had a view of a vast
magnificent virgin rainforest spreading for miles to the west, huge trees well over a hundred feet
tall. The Samboko forest. It was filled with poachers, and several vintages of deserter, ex-FAZ,
ex-FAC, and ex-RCD, who preyed on the villagers at night and on the rare motambusi that passed
through. I didn't know this, but few days earlier Innocent, one of RPO's employees, had been
stripped and cleaned out. And GTZ's Karl Ruf would be relieved of some of his goods along here
a few weeks later. But our horoscope was propitious. We reached the Ituri River, passed pygmy
women, black and white colobus monkeys streaming through trees, little zones of deafening full
throated birdsong and insect din, fifty-yard stretches of delicious aroma. I began to feel the magic
of one of the most cut off and inaccessible places on the planet. 

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