Search This Blog

Thursday, April 26, 2012

                       African Success stories and Role Model  Heros 

The link above  is a remarkable  20 minute speech by Dr. Ian Player of South Africa. He is a founder of the International Wilderness Leadership School, established in the US as  the Wilderness Foundation (,  Here he speaks to l,200 delegates at the World Wilderness Congress in 2005 in Alaska. His words are relevant  today as we work for nature and people in the Congo.  I encourage you to take the time to listen to what he has to say in his colorful, lyrical and did I say WISE; language about respect for the environment.  

It is our hope as we work for the restoration of the Kundelungu and Upemba National Parks in the Congo that his example will serve us well as we go forward optimistically and with determination believing  that a single person or  few people can work wonders for understanding,  protection and even restoration of  the damaged natural world. 

Yellowstone was the first formally created park in the world, next came Virunga in N. Congo and the next one in Congo was Upemba. This creative act was accomplished before Kruger Park was created in S. Africa or Serengeti in Kenya. It was because of  stunning the plant and animal abundance and diversity was so remarkable that it attained world recognition. Tourism followed and a period ensued of colonial construction of facilities in the Parks and the grass roots infusion of money into the lowest roots of the economic system where such infusion tends to remain.

We know that these war ravaged Parks can in time recover. We are told that the vegetation is largely intact implying that given the chance to repopulate, the animals will return. This presupposes the necessity that  government complicity in poaching stop and that staff and workers on the ground are not shorted on their meager paychecks as happened again recently and as has happened often in the past. The boys working in the field, sleeping on the ground, confronting armed poachers are the life blood of the recovery effort. The need and deserve the full support of the ICCN, their employers.  

Margaret Mead's words are insightful points of optimism, “never doubt that individuals or small groups of people can change the world, indeed that was usually what changed history”. Few things serve more profitably than good examples of practices that worked well and can be copied.

Here Dr Bob Ford of the US and local radio station crusader/hero, Frere Luis of Lubumbashi speak with another conservation and human rights champion.

He  is wearing a medal awarded for his role in bringing peace and reconciliation to the Congo that ended the wars that destroyed the Kundelungu and Upemba National Parks and their animals.

We are determined to help the people rebuild their parks and badly need the help of the local and national  officials. 

--An African Success Story -- 
Restoring Depleted Animals to the  Umfolozi Wilderness in 
South Africa

When black rhino were all but killed off in the Umfolozi River watershed in southern Africa Ian Player and Magubu N’Tombela (right) combined forces and made history when they created the International Leadership School. Concurrently they led the uphill struggle  to saving the rhino and today the funds from trans locating the population excess provides for the people in the surrounding areas who protect “their” valuable resource.

In this archival photo Game Ranger Ian Player encourages a darted and drugged black rhino as part of his protection efforts.

Ian and Magubu are real heros!

A corps of dedicated rangers coalesced and they in turn organized scores of  locals who became rangers. Magubu’s grand-daughter Le’shlue  has become South Africa’s first woman Game Ranger.Capable women in the Congo can aspire to this example. 


Elephants are known to tolerate people as well as avoiding them when there is danger. This individual on the border of the Kruger Park in S. Africa’s Timbavati area is peaceful next to a home versus terrifying or even killing people when they are stressed as by poachers and armed gangs.

Game Ranger, Environmental Consultant and African Legend, hero, Paul Dutton as a Bateleur , a "Volunteer Pilot Flying for Conservation in Africa", has done wonders for conservation and restoration 

African Game Ranger Bruce McDonald on my left, in his ultra-light represents the younger generation of Bateleur pilots. He and others like him are following the examples set for them in conservation and restoration. Here we are monitoring climate change effects on vegetation. 

In Lubumbashi, Vincent Ng'eno from Kenya flies the Cessna 206 on Parks missions for the Frankfort Zoological 

 Herds of Cape Buffalo like this can again be seen and will draw visitors from around the world if the Congo government can only get serious about protecting them.

Corrupt officials in high places continue to compromise the chances of recovery for the Parks and in the end it is the people at the grass roots level who suffer most because of this.

The International Wilderness Leadership School has taken thousands of "trailists" from around the world  into the Umfolozi Wilderness, let by Game Rangers, always with young Game Rangers in training.

This kind of activity is waiting to happen in the Congo where infrastructure needs are minimal and the rewards very high. Lives are changed and a group of supporters for the future of  programs are created.

The hikers go into the Umfolozi taking only what they can carry for about l0 days. There are no advance camps and no ground support. They sleep on the ground next to a fire and take one hour shifts keeping the fire alight. They drink filtered water from the river. The power of this experience is profound for all participants. 

The Ranger Station at the Upemba National Park sits on a ridge overlooking thousands of square miles of miombo woodlands and rolling hills of grassy savanna. 

Below the Great House that looks like a scene from Tara and Gone With the Wind is the grave of the wife of a former Superintnendant who held sway in Colonial times. 

Her grieving husband buried her above a panorama as stunning as anything in Out of Africa. 

Just now we stood on the edge of the bluff beside the ruined great house and watched a small herd of zebra, tragically the last of the thousands than once roamed free. 

The burned out Superintendants home was bustling with about 125 school students of all grades divided into 5 classes. One tall grey haired student from Alaska stood out from the group.The kids allow me to sit with them on low, hard benches in the bare room while the young girl, with baby on her hip, teaches

There were no books in sight but eager children jumped and waved hoping to be called upon to take up chalk and answer the questions on the ragged blackboard.

The “Directeur” or Principal “Mathieu” (Matthew) Mujinga n'goy was born and raised here. For many years he was a naturalist guide, a fellow of high energy and good spirits

School girls carry boxes of tablets and writing materials recently donated by an Italian NGO

At the door of the minimally  supplied school supplies room some UNICEF supplies are turned over to the teachers to their great delight 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

This distinguished and brave woman is Eulalie Bashige, a champion of women's rights and the environment. She lives and works in the capitol, Kinshasa and attended every minute of the meetings where we worked on the Master Plan for recovery of the war torn Upemba and Kundelungu National Parks. 

We load the Land Rover for the day long drive, largely on dirt roads,  into the heart of the rarely visited Rangers Station in the Kundelungu National Park. 

We are met there by Head Ranger Gibogo beside me and consider how to integrate into the real world the decisions that came out of the meetings. A lovely temperature at about 5,000'

The map of the Democratic Republic of Congo showing animal concentrations, Upemba and Kundelungu National Parks the two touching gold sections  in lower right. Note that most of the country is made up by the Congo River watershed that flows into the Pacific at the left edge of the map

We stop on the way to follow the proper cultural protocol and introduce ourselves to the Chief Modeste. Our group understands the criticality of such protocol because if there is any hope of getting the local people to do, or not to do something, it will be the Chief who will make it happen.

All of the people are very friendly and glad to communicate 


         dried caterpillars                                      


Local tobacco 

It seems that every family makes charcoal to sell and in some cases it might be the only cash infusion into the home

Charlotte Dyckerhoff from France works in Congo’s capitol Kinshasa where she represents the interests of a European NGO. She joins us as we venture into the rarely visited Park. This view over thousands of square miles seems go on forever

A medical clinic offers basic life support near the entrance to the Kundelungu National Park. The medic could not have been more proud of his situation. He trained in Zambia, the closest place for the instruction he needed

The ever so photographic children respond in kind to any gesture of friendliness

The guard at the entrance gate to the park lives in a little grass and wattle hut of his own construction little different than one constructed in the same place l,000 or l0,000 years ago

The sad condition of this large sign at the main entry to the Park highlights the long gone lions and leopards and gives evidence of the total neglect of this Park that was actually created to protect the cheetah once found here in abundance. The last rhino was killed in the l950’s

Zacherie has been a Ranger here for 32 years, sometimes paid and long periods unpaid. Here he holds a home made gun with plumbing pipe barrel taken from a poacher

Deeper and deeper into the Park we drive, sometimes there is a route to be seen, at other times it is so overgrown one wonders how many years it has been since any vehicle passed.

A chance to bathe in fast moving water at Lutschipuka  is a welcome relief. The similar but bigger Masanga Falls are about 4 k away.  The magnificence of these falls can not be overstated as seen from above or below. The stunning view across the rolling hills covers thousands of square miles of absolute wilderness. We might have been some of the only people in years to enjoy this, one of Africa’s finest panoramas of miombo forests that seem to go on forever.

Game heads of Jacksons Cob (left), greater kudu and Sable Antelope, all killed off during the years of strife and lack of protection in the Park

Butterflies by the hundreds of a dozen species where the track crosseed a little spring, each a little poem on wings

Again following  the  proper protocol, we meet with the National Park team and explain our mission and how we hope to help restore the Park and help secure their incomes and futures.

The best part of the trip comes next, a week or so in still deeper bush, to Upemba National Park, you can google the site for more information, stay tuned!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

As a “newbie” considering the deep and complex problems of conservation in the Congo, I  see myself as trying to drink from a fire hose. What has become
obvious to me however is that the best intentions and the most skilled scientific, academic and administrative approaches to resolution are not likely to succeed unless and until the bush meat trade is drastically reduced. One is inclined to believe that the bloody hand of corruption reaches from the snare setting poacher to the highest jurisdictional levels. One simplifies however by pointing the finger at the obvious local “bad guy” in our midst whom many think lies at the heart of the problem. One needs however to look at the underlying social conditions that promotes and allows the concept to flourish. (Just across the street from the Grand Hotel for example is the smoked and dried head of a grand kudu with glass marbles substituted for eyes. Once a beautiful animal of the deep forest whose quivering nostrils and tall spiraled horns might have graced the cover of National Geographic as it stood in evening "n'govivi", shadow. It lies on the ground amidst plastic garbage beneath a battered old table covered with tourist baubles.)

The global drug trade serves as an example of the complexities faced here in identifying the acupuncture points or reversible parts of this problem. Do we blame the high school student smoking a joint in the parking lot, the street dealer, the big dude in the show-off car in the city,  the grower or trafficker in Nicaragua or the judicial or even executive  functions in either country for failure to stop this scourge that is killing people and animals in the crossfire across the globe? As the French would say, “c’est la guerre”, and war it was that destroyed these two magnificent parks. Where to begin, how do we systematically approach the complexities? this lies at the heart of why we gather, why the EU, Frankfort Zoological Society and other NGO’s are willing to wade into this deep morass. Surely it must be that “Hope is our philosophy”.

 This carving might refer to the subjugation of the indigenous Batua or pygmy people when the Imbonga tradition in the Neolithic wave occurred about l000BC 

The Congolese have been using the resources of the land, minerals and animals since time out of mind. Iron smelting in this region of Africa dates to l000BC

We who are changing the entire earth so quickly would be well served to popularize the idea that conservation can be achieved in spite of ourselves.We cannot allow ourselves or our children to be dragged down by the blood and the drugs, the barren lands or the insatiable greed of the profiteers. We can and must do a better job of communicating a compelling vision and celebrate our successes. My wife reminds me that art and music, dance and song, poetry and philosophy do wonders for nurturing endurance in the battered altruistic heart.  
A Lubumbashi  group playing the
ancient music rhythms of the Congo
 enriched by  the engaging beat of modern

Singing and dancing          
frees the soul from the cruelties of the mind          

(carved by a local 
  "Je dance et je chante     (I dance and sing because
 parce que je vie"                        I am alive)

 I encourage you to read Ecological Intelligence by my friend Dr. Ian McCallum, medical doctor, Jungian, wilderness and Renaissance man, for a deeper look into matters of the soul in the complicated times in which we live

Quoting from an editorial in Conservation Biology Vol. 26 2012, “When people understand and appreciate the value of biodiversity, they will be more likely to think about conservation when they vote, make purchases or decide about uses of land and natural resources”. This brings me back to my first Congo blog where I quoted the chair of the World Bank when he spoke of the need to be focused in part on education. In the end we do not care for what we do not understand.

It is only too obvious to observe that humanity must be tenacious even brave  in its determination to protect and preserve the wild lands that remain. Once they are egregiously disrupted by careless human activity like mountain top removal strip mining, industrial logging of virgin forests or other non sustainable, rapacious  activity, the  repair or restoration  of such places  challenges human capacity to the maximum.

It  pains me very deeply to show you this photo but  it tells the tragic story above in ways that words never can. This pregnant female was shot on a main highway near the gates of Virunga Park in the north of the country but represents what might have been the last elephant of the Kundelungu National Park. The Park whose waters are the very head of the Congo was created especially to protect cheetah, that feline apex of speed and grace.  All of the lions and leopards and other charismatic mega fauna like them have now been extirpated from this once glorious Park, one of the sources of the Pride of all Africa. The loss of this singular iconic individual, about to give birth, provokes one to bitter tears. How long will it take I wonder, under even the most favorable conditions to put back the lions and hippo, kudu, pregnant elephants and all the other species who cohabited with them? 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Back after problems

Hello friends, we have had connection problems but are  now back with any luck! The Internet link is very slow, not to mention that the power is on and off and that water in the sink isn't guaranteed. The years of war led to maintenance decay which is everywhere. I am literally in the center of the second largest city in the country, l.5 million (no one knows for sure) , in the (not so grand) Grand Hotel and one sees everywhere the "glory that was Lubumbashi" when this city was at its heyday.The electricity crashes inconveniently and there is not always water in the bathroom.  While the people have not been able to take over the maintenance and infrastructure roles we have high hopes that they will see the value to themselves to save the Upemba and Kunedlungu National Parks and look to restoration of the once grand numbers of photographic animals, large and small.

Some humor here please !!  A serious anatomical problem is at hand, le gleutus maximus muscle cries for relief after days of travel (sitting on it) to get here and now meetings that last all day.

I continue to be dazzled however by the stunning skill sets brought to bear by of the co-chairs, the Frankfort Zoological Staff and the local people at all levels.
Mes amis, je continue maintenant. The meetings continued today with the co-chairs Jean Pierre D'huart from Belgium and Conrad Abling from England doing a really fine job. The 30 participants  are all Congolese with the Frankfort Zoological staff, myself and Bob Ford as the only non-locals. The meeting was convened by a representative of President Kabila who came in from Kinshasa.  

Here is my new friend Atamato, head ranger from Upemba National Park. What a guy,  self educated "un homme exceptionel" who rose through the ranks against all odds.
I am simply stunned at how capable the participants are! The meetings continued for 6 hours and each person paid rapt attention to every word, took careful notes, followed the agenda and handouts, no one nodding off after lunch. The questions posed to the leaders, the comments contributed to the discussions (all if French of course) illustrated that something quite remarkable is happening here.

In attendance here are top level from the capital in Kinshasa near the mouth of the Congo, about 2.5 hours flying to the west. The size and distances are stunning, just one of the 5 World Heritage Sites/Parks is as big as France.The management problems are immense. Imagine trying to restore all of America's parks after l0 years of war left most of them in a shambles, staff killed or ran away, facilities burned etc.  If courage and determination have anything to do with what they will accomplish, the odds are in their favor.

Above: In the Frankfort Zoological Society humble headquarters office, my Hero,  Project Manager Bryna Griffin (you go girl!) confronts another problem which she will address with calm and wisdom, courage and determination.This young woman from the US is a dedicated powerhouse of the first water.

The 2 days of plenary meetings and two more of practical application meetings have drawn to a close and shift into another phase. There is much, very much to do, including interaction with the local university. It is all quite complicated and expensive to accomplish.

Above & right: street scene in city center Lubumbashi
This photo of Conservation International's Russell Mittermeier, the head of the Wilderness Foundation Vance Martin and my fellow African Game Ranger Paul Dutton calls to mind the power and effectiveness of Bateleurs, "Volunteer Pilots Flying for Conservation in Africa" (see my first blog for information about this group)

I hope readers will share this information as widely as possible to help me as I try to recruit pilots in southern Africa to lend their skills to the conservation movement here that needs them so badly.