Memory of elephants in Kahuzi-Biega N.P. / A view of elephants in Moukalaba-Doudou N.P. in Gabon

African forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) live mostly in rain forests of Africa.
The fact of working hard for over 30 years in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park (KBNP) allowed me to watch them live a sympatric life with gorillas, chimpanzees and other wildlife. Being bigger and tougher than other mammals, elephants opened paths for other mammals when moving in their habitat. When tracking gorillas for habituation or for leading tourists, we could walk smoothly on the paths that were made by elephants. New tender vegetation grew in the paths they made, which were good for gorillas to eat.

Because of lack of buffer zone around the KBNP, elephants often made a lot of crop raiding in the fields of the surrounding communities. People grow crops such as maize, sorghums, beans, soybeans, pumpkins, cassava, peanuts, banana, pineapples, tomatoes and potatoes. During harvest season, elephants always invaded agricultural fields at night and would eat half or all the crops. The Congolese wildlife authority (ICCN) had no compensatory policy. When poor farmers went to claim the damage that elephants caused, they were rejected by ICCN staff. When villagers knew that once they dare to enter the park for some needs like woods, bush meat and other resources they would be caught by anti-poaching rangers and would be punished with fines despite their poverty. This situation led to conflicts between park management and communities around the park.

It was estimated that about 450 elephants lived in the highland sector of the KBNP around Mt. Kahuzi, Mt. Biega and Tshivanga in 1991.

Elephant scratched this tree in KBNP

Elephant scratched this tree in KBNP

Devastating war caused slaughter of all of the elephants in one year during 1996-1997. Only some pictures of their footprints, backs scratching and others remain as souvenirs.

In contrast, the Republic of Gabon is a stable country. The same sub-species of bush elephants live in Gabonese national parks including the Moukalaba Doudou National Park (MDDNP). When I visited in 2013, I noticed that the elephant population is so abundant. The human population in Gabon is about 1 million of people. The law enforcement and legislation is so strict. The human population density around the MDDNP is very low. The crops raiding by elephants are very low.

A Gabonese ranger collecting elephant dungs samples.

A Gabonese ranger collecting elephant dungs samples.

Every day during the two months I spent in MDDNP for training communities and rangers about tourism, gorilla habituation and some socioeconomic impacts, when going to track a gorilla group of Papa Gentil, we walked on fresh paths made by elephants. Rangers of MDDNP were always careful and ready to run when they heard or smelt elephant odors in the surroundings.

I remembered the days I lived in the KBNP for 15 years, every time when I led tourists or when I was habituating gorillas, my trackers Pili Pili and others used to tell me to run away to avoid being squashed by elephants. Those days are things of the past now and it’s only a good memory. And I remembered our 450 elephants that were erased in one-year time in the KBNP.

Skulls of animals at Tshivanga station: For the next generation

Some years ago, during the hard time of the war, almost every day we used to hear gun firing in the hills from the park headquarters. We multiplied patrols inside the park and collected skulls of slaughtered animals from 45 different sites in total.

One day, we heard gun firing and we knew there was a group of gunmen. We organized a mixed patrol group including rangers, soldiers and our brave trackers who are pygmies who knew the forest so well that they could lead us without a compass. When we approached a slaughtering site, soldiers told us to move and stay back because we rangers had no more guns after confiscated by rebels. Soldiers jumped on the opportunity and fired several bullets. Animal slaughters ran away.

At the site, there was a big fire like a campfire, flesh of animals were being smoked above fire. Skin, bones, nails and teeth were put aside. Stock of meat was confiscated by soldiers and it was like their salaries for the work they did.

Those wildlife that were killed included, elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, baboons, antelopes, hogs, cercopithecus, colobus monkeys.

Skull samples are displayed at Tshivanga station and tourists can see them.

It is horrific events but we use it as teaching materials for the new generation to know how to conserve a protected area and the surrounding communities in harmony.

Nice view and beer in Bukavu: Enjoying life after visiting gorillas

View of Mt. Kahuzi seen from the town of Bukavu

View of Mt. Kahuzi seen from the town of Bukavu

Bukavu, our home town is at 30 km of distance to the Kahuzi-Biega National Park where you can see the Grauer’s gorillas.
It’s the capital of the South Kivu Province. It is a hilly town facing Lake Kivu with a beautiful view. It was built in the 1901 by the Belgian authorities with a name “Costermansville” during the colonial period, which was later changed to its original name “Bukavu” in 1953. The population grew thanks to good climate, of which average high is about 25 Celsius degree.

Since 1996 the devastating war in the eastern DR Congo caused the loss of more than 5 millions of people and created a great fear in the hearts of many people. Poverty, unemployment and insecurity in surrounding areas caused migration of thousands of people into the town. The town is still on the long winding track of recovery. A life goes on.

Primus and Amstel beersare mostly preferred by most people

Primus and Amstel beersare mostly preferred by most people

When a climate is goog after rain, the Mount Kahuzi is clearly seen. Visitors can enjoy locally brewed beer at the Bralima brewery and also some imported beers from neighbor countries like Burundi.

Beers like Primus, Mutzig, Heineken, Turbo are brewed locally in Bukavu and they are very popular among the local people. Amstel beer is imported from Burundi. They go well with foods and dances, and then the life becomes soft for some time.

USD15 for a plate of barbacue

USD15 for a plate of barbacue

A day with tourists from Japan: Gorilla tracking and POPOF School

Although security situation is improving on a slow pace in the area around the Kahuzi-Biega National Park (KBNP), some tourists are visiting gorillas in the park and local communities, too.

A group of Japanese tourists visited the Idjwi Ireland, the Rusizi plain near Uvira, then spent some nights in Bukavu town. They experienced cultures of different local people such as the Havu in Idjwi Ireland, the Shi around Bukavu and the Fuliro near Uvira city.

We guided them to visit the gorillas in the KBNP. After for one hour driving, we reached Tshivanga headquarters. A team of guides and trackers went to the forest early in the morning to track and know where the gorilla group of Cimanuka spent the previous night.

Brieffing listened carefully before tracking gorillas

Brieffing listened carefully before tracking gorillas

After a briefing by Juvenal Munganga, chief of the visitor center, we drove another seven kilometers in the park. Lambert Mongane, chief of guides also made a short briefing and said “Welcome, we just walk for about 30 minutes and meet the group of Cimanuka. Please don’t panic when you are with gorillas because they are so friendly. Stay calm and take photos as you like. I will ask each of you to wear mask to avoid diseases transmission from gorillas to us or from us to them”.

Time for pictures on gorillas but in the middle of bamboo forest

Time for pictures on gorillas but in the middle of bamboo forest

We met the silverback Cimanuka taking a nap in the middle of his group at around 11:00 a.m. We could see some activities of other group members such as grooming. Cimanuka groomed an adult female Mwinja while she also groomed her baby. For curiosity and fun, some youngsters were playing among themselves climbing a tree, some being clapping and others beating chests. After one hour, we left the gorillas in peace and headed back to the park station.

Japanese tourists playing with Anga pupils.

Japanese tourists playing with Anga pupils.

We took them to our kindergarten and primary Anga School in Miti town. This school falls into POPOF-I’s environmental education department and we educate the pupils and the local people about the importance of protecting our environment and of reforestation. Anga School consists of kindergarten, primary and secondary school, which we registered in 1999 near the KBNP. Pupils, with age from 3 to 12, welcomed the visitors with good songs, they played very fun games and showed how they study about the nature. One of the Japanese said at the end “It was an excellent. I’m really impressed how friendly and cheerful they are”.

On the way back to Bukavu, it was time to enjoy foods and beers along the way along the Lake Kivu. These Japanese friends of Congo spent some nights in Bukavu, and then they drove to Kigali to take a flight back home. I truly hope that they got very nice impression of the nature, the people and the culture of our country.