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.
The meetings are robust in attendance and participants are giving their all to the prospect of restoring these grand National Parks, Kundelungu not so far from Lubumbashi to the north east and Upemba to the north, about a 2 day drive. The parks continue however to be troubled at many levels, poaching, illegal mining, fishing, hunting and agricultural development and the Mai-Mai (who just yesterday were engaged in a shoot out that left 20 dead) This tragedy occurred 45k from the Upemba Headquarters, thus we have taken it off of our site visit list. Atamato, the head ranger of Upemba is with us so we are getting inside news of this situation denied to most. (sorry, couldn't correct this typo)
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
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.