2010 Update on Bili/Uere
Part 1 - February 2010
We are coming to the end of a long film shoot which started in South Kivu and now ends in Kisangani
I did hear about your chimp sanctuary from Claudine a few years ago and assumed that progress was slow even by Congo standards, Issaka from Bili then showed me the location and while clearly there have been some efforts in the context of the school (I could not find a single worker on site at 11 am) and the road, it seems, so far to have very little do do with a chimp sanctuary.
We talked to dozens of NGO officials in both North and South Kivu where there must be hundreds of foreign NGOs by now and thousands of expats running them, Pretty much all deal with humanitarian issues such as schools and dispenseraies and pretty much everything else affecting humans, As such I find it more then just strange that a conservation NGO spends years of time and lots of money to build a school - and next the teacher housing and then a dispensary - which really does not make any difference to a single chimp, Why not let the humanitarian NGOs get on with their side of things or write them a check so they can set up and run a school which they are supposedly qualified at and finally do something for orphaned chimps?
(By the way there were quiet a few charcol burning pits combined with the cutting of trees on the road and it is clear that this has become a major activity now that it seems relatively easy to evacuate the bags, (Kind of the opposite what conservation projects hope to achieve).
At the present rate of construction there might in the end be very few wild chimps left by the time this sanctuary is finally ready, Our guys had no problem to find and film fresh chimp. elephant as well as Okapi meat on a daily basis in the markets of Kisangani, I did see your vehicle with the sanctuary logo on the side and was told Michel wanted to ask me where the documentation was for the local registration of the Foundation, Maybe working with ICCN in checking some of the local markets or going around the schools might be a way for the Kisangani based employees to spend some of their time while the years go by and schools and clinics are being discussed and constructed
At the Lwiro end where Cleve dumped the chimps he picked up last year and which clearly could not go to the Kisangani sanctuary, there are now some 47 sitting in miserably small cages, The whole area must be one of the least secure places in the Congo and large scale investments in housing and enclosures might not be the most prudent thing to do, However to have in one province a large island designated as a chimp sanctuary with one watchman living on it while in the neighbouring one there are 47 fast growing chimps squeezed into a range of relatively small cages is kind of absurd.
Once more I have little doubt that if the foundation was more then just an excercise in taking advantage of the Dutch tax code,that there would be more progress on the ground and for a change the plight of the chimps would come first (we were also told that there are dozens of captive chimps in and around Kisangani).
Conservation as a side line generally does not work and it certainly does not work in the Congo context,(that is when pirogues get stolen and lorries crash into newly built schools).
On our shoot we were impressed with the activities at the Okapi Reserve where the Gillman Foundation has invested over U$ 10 million in its creation and upkeep over the last 20 years, At least there are 120 trained and well dressed ecoguards at gates and on patrolls, They have been very active and have succeeded in keeping all gold mining and logging out of the reserve, (elephant poaching by the army is still a major issue).
It is a 'Reserve de la Faune" just like the portion of Bili Uere around Adama on the CAR border. A Reserve de la Faune based on all the same rules and regulations, The Okapi Reserve has over 17 000 people living in it and works as a protected eco system, There is absolutely no reason why, with the right approach. the same status could not have been achieved for the Reserve de la Faune portion of the Bili Uere Ecosystem. The legal basis was there, The diplomatic community and the donors would have backed up some serious pressure on ICCN to live up to its guardian authority, However advancing this issue should not have been left to a long haired researcher in sandals and a local operatives with no trackrecord or relevant background., (I did invest more then ten years and quiet a lot of my resources to get the project to the point it had reached a few years ago and feel I have a right to this assessment after hearing for the first time the full story of all which went wrong).
According to Issaka a lot of the ivory arriving in Kisangani still comes from the Bili Uere area but he admits that the remaining elephants will not survive much longer based on the present hunting pressure (there also seem to be again half a dozen orphanded chimps in Bili), Essentially things are back to where they were over a decade ago.
Maybe Bili required a 'Gillman type of approach' - or had to be written off, However having learnt that lesson I would have hoped that this Boyoma project will not go the same route (since mopping up the conservation failures tends to generally be a lot easier than actually protecting the wildlife in the wild). I certainly feel with cars driving around Kisangani advertising a chimp sanctuary and with the Foundation web site making claims which at this stage are far from the the realties on the ground that you both have a responsability to come up with more then just conservation and animal welfare lip service.
Part 2 - July 2010
While on a film shoot in Kisangani in February this year I met up with an acquaintance from Bili, A relative of one of the senior chiefs. He is now based in Kisangani studying at the University.
We discussed the status quo at Bili (not good at the time) and the reasons for the collapse of the previous conservation and research project. During the discussion it became again clear that he nor the Bili administration was aware of exactly what the national laws stipulate for the various different types of protected zones which exist around Bili (mainly the wildlife reserve along the border with the CAR). He briefed me on the acrimonious departure of the Wasmoeth Wildlife Foundation the local communities problems with there representatives on the ground.
I suggested that he spend a month of his next holiday at the Okapi Breeding Center at Epulu which is run by the Gillman Foundation from Florida and which for the last two decades has assisted ICCN in managing what is another wildlife reserve with thousands of residents living of in it and living agriculture and traditional hunting, (similar to the situation around the wildlife reserve along the CAR border). We agreed that I would sponsor such a familiarization trip and that in return he would write a detailed report of what the local administration and population would have to accept if there was ever to be a chance to run the Bili wildlife reserve as a proper protected area, He performed this task well outlining all the legal aspects governing the administration of wildlife reserves in the DRC.
I then managed to get a copy of this report to Zemio in the CAR via an AIM pilot, The chiefs sent a messenger to pick it up and it seems they did spend some time studying it,
I was back in Kisangani in early July and managed to talk to the chiefs and Nico on the radio, They suggested a personal meeting on the ground to discuss issues they needed clarification on, I agreed that I would try to visit sometimes in the near future. However in my discussion with the student from Kisangani as well as other former Bili residents now living in Kisangani and Bawfasende, it became clear that in many ways the situation has further deteriorated, Especially the overall security situation and with it aspects affecting conservation, The LRA is now active in many parts of the Bili/Uere protected area, There are refugees on the CAR side of the border as well as refugees which arrived in Bili. The Ugandan army (with logistics and intelligence backing from the US) have followed these LRA groupings into the DRC and are now also based in the area. The DRC government has sent its own troops and as usual they appear to be more of a problem, in terms of securing the area, then they are an asset. The Mbororo (Fulani) cattle people which moved into an area further to the east of Bili in the last decade are now also occupying part of the wildlife reserve around Adama, Their intensive burning and grazing of certain areas is feared that to lead to desertification of some of the large savannah patches they now use regularly. Two gold mining camps are still active and clearly most of the workers live of bush meat.
A few days prior to our arrival in Kisangani a DRC army colonel had arrived in Kisangani bringing with him a large consignment of ivory from the Bili area, A lot of the ivory available in Kisangani seems to still come from the Bili area with indicators that - except for the Okapi Reserve and parts of the Maiko National Park - elephant populations are now generally down to levels where elephant hunting is no longer commercially viable(be it for meat or ivory). As in Kinshasa, Kisangani also has kind of a domestic ivory market with mostly worked pieces on display although it is clear that the same dealers are also dealing in the raw material which is subject to more under the table type of transactions.
As with the corresponding Kinshasa market it is clear that each item in this market is illegal under Congo law and certainly the export of any of these items would be illegal under the CITES convention, As such these domestic markets represent a clear indicator of the lack of political will by the Central Authority in Kinshasa to even try to stop the poaching of elephants and the trade in ivory.
We had no problem finding an official of the Ministry of Culture and Arts who offered to provide us with export licences for any kind of art work and ivory based on officially signed (not CITES) permits with all kinds of signatures and stamps, He even showed us documents - including for ivory - foreign visitors had used to export shipments in the past, I managed to photograph some of these documents on his desk (see below) The same party also offered us an Okapi and leopard skin ready for export under the same conditions.
As during the Feb, trip our local investigator had no problem to find and film the meat of chimpanzees, Okapis and elephants, There really seems to be no kind of control of any of the bush meat markets by anybody from ICCN or any other lawe enforcement body.
The Boyoma Chimpanzee Sanctuary which has been under outside Kisangani for several years now, consists of an almost finished school building with no signs that any chimpanzee orphan will be able to benefit from any of this investment for years to come.
Further discussions with the university student and other former residents of Bili made it once again clear that the prevailing attitude and outlook of the local administration and population is still the same:-- they would consider assisting a third party (NGO) to try to protect
some parts of the area and some species if there were clear cut and
high financial and other returns for all the players involved.
-- they do not consider the national laws governing the use and
administration of protected areas as relevant in their region
-- there is no appreciation of the notion that maybe it is time for
a change in approach and them asking third parties to assist with
protecting THEIR HERITAGE. This appears to be as abstract a proposal
as it has ever been even with the younger generation.
If no progress can be made to effect a basic mentality change then it is, in my oppinion the best to forget Bili/Uere as a protected area which still might have some potential as far as trying to protect a relic population of elephants and what might still be a large numbeer of chimpanzees.(in addition it is clear that most development activities in DRC means attracting people from areas with even less infrastructure and when it comes to protecting willdlife or habitat each new inhabitant has the potential of becoming a new liability and problem).
Plus of course the incursions of the LRA and the Mobororo, combined with forces from the DRC and Uganda create pretty much of an impossible background as far as creating an environment conducive for future investments in conservation activities.
Overall what is happening at Bili today appears to be pretty much representative for what seems to be going on everywhere in the name of decentralization. The Central authority losing more and more control to all kinds of actors in the interior and they in turn seem mostly interested in extracting resources, Sustainability, in this context, does not seem to be an issue any of these players are really concerned about.
I hope to update this account later this year with a first hand report from the ground taking up the official invitation I received from the Bili administration and Nico to come and reevaluate the situtation.
As for the Bili Chimpanzee; Below an image of Bili the female chimp we confiscated a decade ago, She now lives with our male in large forested enclosure and seems to be turning into one of the 'mysterious Bili chimps with her also manifesting some of her own cultural traits.
Nanyuki, July 2010
Copyright © 2016 KarlAmmann.Com All Rights Reserved
All photographs © 2016 Karl Ammann
website by the Goldray Consulting Group