The Upemba and Kundelungu National Parks in Democratic Republic of Congo were once teeming with wildlife. 12,000 square miles of magnificent wilderness have been impoverished of wildlife in decades of civil war and lawlessness. An international group of experts gathered in April 2012 to begin work towards restoration.
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 and committed the participants are! The meetings continued for days and each person paid rapt attention to every word, took careful notes, followed the agenda and handouts, no one nodded 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 was happening there.
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 Brian, I couldn’t see how to correct this underlined and colored typo)
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.
Above: street scenes in city center Lubumbash
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.
This photo was taken during a South African conservation program of Conservation International’s Russell Mittermeier, the head of theWilderness Foundation Vance Martin and my fellow African Game Ranger Paul Dutton. The image calls to mind the power and effectiveness of Bateleurs, “Volunteer Pilots Flying for Conservation in Africa” whom we are trying to engage in the Congo.
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.