Human Journey

Congo Game Ranger Conservationist Atamato Gunned Down

Michael McBride from Alaska with murdered  Upemba National Park Head Ranger Atamato
Michael McBride from Alaska with murdered Upemba National Park Head Ranger Atamato

I was in the Congo a few months before this tragedy in association with The Frankfort Zoological Society which was awarded a $3.42 million grant from the European Union. We were tasked with writing a Master Plan for the recovery of The Kundelungu and Upemba National Parks devastated by war and corruption. Upemba,  where Atamato was the Head Ranger is about 5,000 square miles in size. This region is globally significant because of  the  richness of its  biodiversity.

Killing animals in the Parks for the bush meat trade has impovrished the area of all animals
Killing animals in the Parks for the bush meat trade has impoverished the area of all animals
There are many good people like Atamato in DRC Congo working to improve conditions
There are many good people like Atamato in DRC Congo working to improve conditions

Mai-Mai in the Congo National Parks, renegade groups killing people and animals

Mai-Mai in the Congo  Parks, renegade groups killing people and animals (note child with arrow)

What this tragedy shows is the deadliness of the low-level conflict that is happening in the Katanga Province. With an estimated $24 trillion in mineral wealth and a huge ongoing mineral extraction process, this is the richest region in the world. Its people are the poorest. The World Bank ranks the Congo dead last in a list of worst places in the world to do business. There is much international news about the fighting and civil unrest in the Kivus in the north of the country but while these stories grab the headlines, there is a nasty little war taking place in and around the Upemba and Kundelungu National Parks. It’s a war about poverty, criminality, superstition and tribalism.

Atamato was an unfortunate victim of that war, as are the local populations, women, children, the sick and the elderly who suffer as a consequence. I suspect that most of the so-called Mai-Mai have no idea why they are fighting. There is really no ideology and no possible positive outcome for them. These poorest of the poor live and die miserably. A week after Atamato’s death the National Army (FARDC) attacked a group of Mai Mai on the boundary of the Park, 25 were killed, including at least one of Atamato’s killers.

Less than a year ago a contingent of Mai Mai killed people just outside the Upemba Park and a few months later over ran the Park’s Lusinga Ranger Station itself just after I left. At the entrance to the lovely compound are the well tended graves of members of this contingent killed by a still earlier Mai Mai attack. In the past when troops from the Army have responded to such atrocities, they themselves killed many of the last animals in the Parks and typically left greater disruption in their wake.

Mai Mai killed defenders of the Lusinga Station in the Upemba National Park
Mai Mai killed defenders of the Lusinga Station in the Upemba National Park
The last elephants have been killed in these National Parks
The last elephants have been killed in these National Parks

My time in Lubumbashi, Kiubo and at Lusinga in the Upemba Park brought me face to face again and again with the corruption of the Kabila government which reaches down from the President’s own inner circle to members of the ICCN. I personally observed that many of those who wear the ICCN badges are actively engaged in pilfering significant amounts of money from field staff like Atamato and his men and are complicit in the killing of the very animals they are empowered to protect. The involvement of the ICCN in the large and profitable bush meat trade contributes to overall lawlessness and may very well lie at the periphery of Atamato’s murder.

This is a case of desperation feeding off of grinding poverty. Villagers are unable to harvest their produce, children do not attend school, health care is dismal,  nobody is willing to visit the region and investment dries up. This creates more poverty, more desperate young men and consequently more Mai-Mai. Unfortunately the government is far too weak, far too corrupt and ineffective to intervene and help resolve any of these issues. And of course, one of the biggest victims is conservation.

School children suffer loss of education and with that loss so goes the future
School children suffer loss of education and with that loss so goes the future  for the Congo Parks
The bush meat trade is so sophisticated that meat is shrink wrapped in foil packets for sale
The bush meat trade is so sophisticated that meat is shrink wrapped in foil packets for sale

 

There is rampant poaching, terrified rangers and  no tourists to inject any money into the local economy, interact with the people and give them a  sense that they could  have a secure future surrounded by wilderness, world class biodiversity and animals.

The involvement of the ICCN in the large and profitable bush meat trade contributes to overall lawlessness and may very well lie at the periphery of Atamato’s murder.

     What to do with this information ?      YES ! you can help

If you recycle pop cans and newspapers you believe that small acts by many individual  people like you really matters. Read more about what we are doing to help  http://michaelpetermcbride.blogspot.com/ Scroll down to the  May 10 post, Congo’s Future is With the Children”  and then join us !

We can’t do much from afar about the people who are doing bad things but we can help the children/students of the Rangers   at the Lusinga Ranger Station in the Upemba National Park. I wholeheartedly believe that the concentric rings radiated out from this little school deep in the troubled area might do more good than we could imagine.  Thank you !

Learn about the tragic  slaughter of elephants and other animals  across all Africa in this Congressional Hearing http://www.foreign.senate.gov/hearings/ivory-and-insecurity_the-global-implications-of-poaching-in-africa

 

He has more than 40 years experience as a wilderness guide, interpretive naturalist and bush pilot flying the wilds of Alaska. He's a Master Guide, licensed Coast Guard Captain with strong expertise in marine biology. He is an elected member of the Explorer's Club and Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and is a Nationally Certified Yoga Teacher. He was the first Alaskan to serve on the Smithsonian National Board, a Trustee for The Nature Conservancy and Wilderness Foundation board member. He was awarded a Legislative Citation for Practical Activism. He was an Advisory Board member and pilot for Lighthawk, "Volunteer Pilots Flying for Conservation in America” and a founding patron of Bateleurs, “Volunteer Pilots Flying for Conservation in Africa” and is an elected member of the Africa Game Rangers Association. His Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge won a score of international awards and is listed in the NY Times Best Seller "1000 Places To See Before You Die" . Web site: alaskawildernesslodge.com His new book The Last Wilderness-Alaska's Wild Coast is available at Fulcrum Publishing, Golden Colorado
  • Christine A O

    It is a great shame. A lawless country yet rich in many aspects, to keep such group of nationals like mai-mai etc…Congo people, their emvironment- will never have peace and prosperity without a commited nation leaders…

About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (dbraun@ngs.org)

Social Media