The Bondo Mystery Apes
OPEN LETTER TO HANS WASMOETH OF THE WASMOETH WILDLIFE FOUNDATION
I guess the fact that we have had some major differences of opinion as far as the Bili conservation project is concerned seems beyond doubt. However I always had high hopes that in the end the project was more then a tax shelter scheme. I am no longer sure that this analysis was right.
I just spent some 12 days in the region with some journalists and while our main objective was to establish the demand pattern for elephant meat compared to that of ivory, we did conduct a wide range of interviews, which included residents of Bili on visit in Zemio, as well as some extensive low level survey flying over many parts of the Bili Uere protected areas and other parts of the CAR and DRC (the first elephant we managed to spot from the air was however at Dzanga Sangha, while Ron kept pointing out saline/clearings where only ten years ago dozens of elephants would have congregated late in the afternoon).
As such, the results of this survey were more then just distressing:
- It would appear that the U$ half a million 'bridge to nowhere' built by MMe Live, combined with the hundred thousands you have put into the coffee scheme have resulted in some kind of an economic boom scenario for Bili. We were told that there are now even large new shops selling electronic equipment among other items. The result, as should have been expected, is an influx of new residents which combined with the new disposable income seem to have drastically increased the demand for bush meat. This influx also includes two prominent hunters from the Gadia village one of them being Caiman, and the fact that they do not seem to have turned to carpentry or agriculture at their new residence.
- We were told a wide range of ammunition and guns are now available for sale in Bili ( a few years ago the lack of ammunition was one of the main restrictive factors as far as poaching was concerned).
- According to Shadraka, during a recent visit by Chief Selesi to Zemio he declared that he had outlawed the sale of elephant meat in the Bili market but that the sale of any other bush meat was not restricted.
- The end result appears to be that the bush meat supply and demand pattern has drastically changed: While pretty much all the elephant meat still comes out through Zemio there is now a flow of smaller bush meat items FROM THE BORDER AREA INTO BILI.
- Ron reported that on his most recent trip to Bili he saw five baskets of elephant meat being transported openly on the road between Badai and the camp and that he was able to smell it far down the trail.
- The reports from Shadrak state that one of the former trackers (Commando) has gone back to active elephant hunting and has killed several this year in the Gangu area.
- Several other parties have killed elephants out of the last remaining herd of elephants along the Gangu. This includes a Mr. Martin and Mr. Merci who delivered an elephant in smoked form to Gadia on May 2nd.
- On May third another elephant arrived in 'the same condition' this time hunted by Tanibouaniwia (the guy Alexis managed to get arrested at one point - albeit without much impact it would appear) in the Ebale area and again transported via Badai and Bulamassi.
- On May fourth the wife of a hunter came to the mission to sell the meat of a hippo which her husband had shot on the Dume River and which again came out via Bulamassi (I have little doubt that in these hunting forays in the area of the research camp and the Gangu river the research transects are being used to gain access to the forest and transport the meat).
- On May 6th another elephant and ivory arrived in Gadia, hunted by Tanibouaniwia's assistant from the Ebale/village forest again involving the transport through Badai and via Bulamassi to Adama.
- While in the past we contemplated to set up hidden trip cameras to monitor the elephant meat traffic on forest trails running from Ebale up to the Assa River, this no longer seems to be an issue: The meat is now again transported openly on bicycles (most likely including coffee project bicycles) along the main road through chief Selesi's village and the main coffee buying area.
- We also obtained the new custom duty tax list at Zemio and nothing much has changed as far as importing bush meat from the DRC except it has all gotten a lot more detailed. Besides the 'paniers' of smoked meat - which are almost always elephant - there are now taxes for individual pieces and lots of 10 pieces and as a new addition specific taxes for dead antelopes and monkeys. There is little doubt that dead chimps are covered by this and Sadraka has reported the arrival of chimp meat but it also covers a wide range of lesser primates which are all covered under Appendix 2 of the CITES convention two which both the DRC and CAR are signatories.
- Elephant meat in Zemio is no longer openly sold in the market but there now is a very active house to house trade - as by the wife of the Gadia hunter who came to sell hippo meat to MMe Wendy.
- A French trophy hunter with a camp on the way to Rafai, which we interviewed, confirmed that there was still regularly meat shipments which came via Ginekoumba and Dembia and that Mmm Reimond from Rafai was still in the meat trading business.
- The cameraman also run the camera while discussing ivory with a Chadian ivory trader in town and while I have not seen a transcript yet he stated that the ivory trade had picked up and was very active at the moment.
I have for the last ten years had one mantra, that of preaching independent third party auditing of conservation projects and to hopefully learn from mistakes. As I said before, I am more then just distressed to see that I initiated a conservation project which now seem to go the route of many of the others, becoming a major part of the problem rather then a solution and without any real effort being made to evaluate the overall impact.(putting Shadrakas reports up on your web page might be an initial step).
If all the above is combined with the fact that the DRC law does not allow commercial cultivation in protected areas and that a big part of the coffee buying project covers areas in the hunting and wildlife reserve, I would have thought that such an independent third party - unannounced - audit would be in everybodys interest but certainly in that of the last hippos and elephants in the Bili Uere area.
I also have now been maintaining for years that conservation projects in this part of the world have no hope to succeed if they do not combine an arsenal of carrots and sticks. Buying the coffee clearly amounts to a major carrot, withdrawing the coffee income and investing it instead in real and serious law enforcement by well trained ecoguards - from outside the project area - could be relevant sticks. At this stage to pretend things are under control and that no additional measurers are needed and that the present approach is working has a high chance of The Wasmoeth Wildlife Foundation, in the end, presiding over the last elephant and hippo of the area ending up in an Azande cooking pot.
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