Dr. Cleve Hicks has written a very moving story about his encounters with the bushmeat trade and bushmeat orphans in central Africa as part of our guest blogging project. Dr. Hicks earned his master’s degree working with the chimps just down the road from us at the Chimpanzee & Human Communication Institute, and continues to study chimps in free-living Africa. He has worked for several years in the northern DRC studying chimps in the Bili Forest. This story is going to be split into three segments, so check back over the next few days for the continued pieces. WARNING: some disturbing images included in this entry (the most graphic ones are included as links in their caption).
LUKURU MISSION TO BILI, JULY 2012
As our caravan rumbled along the recently-repaired dirt road leading from Kisangani to Buta, I felt a sense of relief. We had temporarily left behind us the flurry of stamps, signatures, and copies in triplicate necessary to get us back to the forest of Bili, and I felt the same sense of expectation I had when I first arrived in DR Congo back in 2004. Every kilometer we put behind us was getting us closer to the chimpanzees of Gangu Forest. Our caravan consisted of four motorbikes and a Nissan rented from the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN), which was brimming over with bicycles, trunks, researchers, and Ecoguards.
Our truck had briefly broken down back in Banalia, putting us several hours behind schedule, and it was now clear that we would not reach our destination, the frontier town of Buta, by nightfall. Project Pro-Routes had done an excellent job repairing the road since I last suffered to travel over it back in 2008, but we had been told that the final 35 km before Buta remained a morass of muddy pits, lurching divets, and lop-sided gulleys, which we could not risk getting stuck in at night. Fortunately at around sundown we found ourselves pulling up at the road block set up by ICCN guards at Sukisa, the guard station established to check vehicles for bushmeat as they passed through the Rubi-Tele game reserve. As Lukuru team leader Henri Silegowa and I watched our six ICCN guards greet their Rubi-Tele compadres, Henri said, “Nous sommes chez nous.” (“We are at our house.”) The Rubi-Tele guards were sharply outfitted in new uniforms, carried arms, and projected a highly motivated and professional demeanor. The station had come a long way since Terese Hart visited it in 2007 on her faunal survey of the forest (Hart 2007). After having spent so many years working to raise awareness about the neglected wildlife of northern DRC, it was exciting to see that the region was no longer being ignored. More....