Tag Archives: law enforcement

Ian Redmond – Sorry, Gabon is closed today

Thursday, 3rd September

I bought a ticket on local airline CEIBA for a flight at 1300, then took a taxi to explore the local bushmeat markets in Pointe Noir. The only animals in the first market were massive Merou fish being filleted among crowded fruit and veg stalls, so we quickly moved on. Pointe Noir main market is a warren of narrow passageways between stalls selling every conceivable product, and I struggled to keep up with my guide without knocking over the displays with my camera-bag.

Once past the smoked and salted fish section, the stalls were piled with portions of wild animals – porcupines, pangolins, cane-rats, antelopes and monkeys.  It brought to mind the game butchers where I grew up in Beverley, Yorkshire, where venison, rabbits and pheasants were usually on display. 

The difference (apart from the variety of species) was that the African bushmeat trade (link to www.4apes.com/bushmeat) has grown to unsustainable levels as commercial hunters gain access to previously inaccessible forests.   I chatted to the traders to ask what other species they sold, and whether there was still a demand for ape meat.   They were quick to explain that inspectors from the Ministry of Water and Forests came by every week to check, and that no endangered species were sold.  They had been well informed by the nearby Jane Goodall Institute sanctuary, Tshimpounga, and no longer sold chimpanzee or gorilla.  “But surely older people who have always eaten it must still be trying to get some?” I said.   “They have to change their meat!”  came the reply.   I asked if he would say that on video for the YoG website, and he said he would but felt it would be better coming from the President of the Bushmeat Traders.  When introduced, the President agreed to speak on video, and once we get these HD video files compressed and on-line, you’ll see what he has to say. Mind you, it contrasts sharply with the recent exposé by Endangered Species International, reported at http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8256000/8256464.stm

 Legal bushmeat stall, Central Market, Pt Noire, Congo. Photo Ian Redmond.

Africa’s Green Heart – a new film by Steve O Taylor, partially supported by the CMS (UNEP’s Convention on Migratory Species), which includes dramatic bushmeat sequences, will soon be available from the Ape Alliance.  It is hoped that this educational resource will stimulate discussion in schools, governments and among the various interested parties in this complex issue.

Enforcing existing wildlife law is a crucial and immediate challenge in the fight for gorillas’ survival. The YoG supports a project in Congo Brazzaville. Find out more about the project here! You can also donate for it through this site.

Got back to the airport in good time to check in, get my passport stamped and just as I was putting my pocket contents into the basket for the X-ray the word came through that Gabon was closed due to the post-electoral disturbances.  The presidential elections had been close with all three main candidates declaring victory, and the situation was tense.  The next flight to Libreville wasn’t until tomorrow evening, so not wanting to waste a day and a half, and being advised that there were more flights to other range states from Malabo (the second scheduled destination), I decided to take flight anyway.

Once we were off the plane in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea on the island of Fernado Po, a friendly young customs officer seemed to think a transit visa wouldn’t be a problem once the Comisario returned to his desk and asked me to wait.   I waited. 

I could see how busy everyone was; two women sat in the corner deep in conversation, two men stood huddled over a laptop exchanging messages with someone, somewhere (I sneaked a peek) and a young guy with a games console plugged in next to the non-functional metal-detector got to the next level, did a little dance, then grinned sheepishly at me before returning to slay whatever monsters next came his way.  

No-one seemed to have within their job description ‘assisting stranded passengers’.   Now and again I’d experiment to see where exactly ‘the point they shall not pass’ was, and I’d catch someone’s eye, or a different uniform would walk through, so I would ask if I could please have a transit visa or a receipt for my passport so I could go and find a hotel for the night.   “Attendez s’il vous plait,” came the reply. 

The Comisario was a big man and once he realised he had a room full of passengers next door he took charge.  In French and Spanish he asked, “where are you all going?“   The babble of destinations was confusing, so he told everyone going to Nigeria to sit here,  to Benin, sit there, and so on.   People obediently sorted themselves geographically as his assistant collected their passports.   That was much tidier, so he walked back to his office.   There was a moment’s silence before everyone looked at each other and burst out laughing. 

I followed him to his office – well furnished with a big desk and well-upholstered leather armchairs – and tried to explain that the tidy room full of people were just here until the aircraft sitting on the tarmac outside was ready for take-off.   My situation was different and to find the next flight to one of the countries I needed to visit a travel agent, probably tomorrow, so please could I have a transit visa and all would be well.  He eventually got the message and extracted my passport from the pile, then placed it in isolation on a separate part of his desk and asked me to wait.   

I tried the ace up my sleeve, and showed him my UNEP-CMS Ordre de Mission, which listed Equatorial Guinea and asks ‘To Whom it May Concern’ to assist with a visa for my mission.   He called the flight controller down and they conferred, then the flight controller apologised and led me past the tidy but increasingly angry passengers (now rebelling by re-sorting themselves and saying they’ll never fly woth CeiBA again), upstairs to the VIP lounge where he left me in splendid isolation.   Here I could enjoy the well-upholstered leather sofas and ornate gilded glass coffee table, upon which a hostess presented me with a cold tonic (sadly no gin), and I was left alone.   But there was power, and comfort, so I blogged until I was falling asleep, then curled up under my kikoi and got some kip.

Read Ian’s previous post here!

Ian Redmond – Fish and gorillas

August 28th – Imagine you are an ant watching the ripples of a small mountain stream flowing over pebble – that is how you feel looking at giant standing waves of the Kinsuka Rapids, formed as the smooth wide waters of Stanley Pool squeeze through the narrow exit with tremendous force, en route for the Atlantic at Banana. The Congo River is unlike any other in this regard – instead of broadening into a gentle estuary or delta in its lower reaches, this immense volume of water powers through a deep crack in the rock.   

Shovelling sand near standing waves, Kinsuka Rapids, Kinshasa, DRC, small. Picture Ian Redmond.

In the foreground, battered lorries are being filled with sand by gangs of men with long-handled shovels.  Kinshasa is witnessing a building boom as stability brings investment, and the massive sand-banks are bit by bit being converted into a high-rise city.  I asked my host Melanie if she would like to say something about the links between fish and gorillas, and with the rapids behind her, she gave a great YoG interview.  “Everything that happens in the forests of the Congo Basin ends up in the river” she pointed out, “and if you lose the forests, you lose most of the fish in the river, and also in the in-shore marine fisheries that feed so many people.  So, to save the gorillas, you save the forests… and so save the fish.  It is all connected.”   What better message for the Year of the Gorilla?  

Dr Melanie Stiassny links fish and gorillas, Kinsantu Rapids, DRC side, small. Photo Ian Redmond.

Any study in a little-known habitat is likely to yield species new to science (usually well known to local people but not yet formally described) but I had heard that Melanie had found a fish so unlike any other that it needed not only a new species and genus, but a new Family. But despite jokes about fishermen’s tales, she admitted it was quite a small fish – exciting news for ichthyologists nevertheless.

By chance, one of the ichthyologists’ neighbours turned out to be Inogwabini, one of Congo’s foremost field scientists, now working with WWF.  He gave me a lift into the WWF offices, which conveniently were in the same compound as UNEP, and he also gave a bi-lingual YoG interview.  Ino had taken part in the census of Eastern Lowland Gorillas in the early to mid-1990s which came up with the widely quoted 1996 estimate of 17,000 (+or- 8,000), 86 per cent of whom lived in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park and surrounding forests.  One of the big questions hanging over gorilla conservation in the DRC is how many of these animals have survived both the coltan boom at the turn of the century (see http://www.bornfree.org.uk/animals/gorillas/conservation-research/) and the on-going occupation of the lowland sector of the park by armed militias who fight to control the lucrative flow of minerals?  

Inogwabini, Congolese conservationist with WWF, Kinshasa, small. Photo Ian Redmond.

Thanks to the monitoring of 11 gorilla groups in the 600 square km montane sector by ICCN with support from WCS (now aided by a grant from the Spanish Government through GRASP), we know that the number in this relatively well-controlled sector was reduced by half during the conflict, but is recovering.  The lowland sector (ten times bigger) is not yet secure for census work, and the fear is that the decline will be greater than in the montane sector.

Across the Mighty Congo (and even mightier bureaucratic hurdles)

After making the best of these opportunities for meetings and YoG interviews, I tried one more time for an Angolan visa. No luck – if only this honorary Ambassador title came with a diplomatic passport, there’d be no problem and the visas would be free!

Crossing the Congo River by ‘Canoe Rapide’ takes but a few minutes; getting through the various stages of buying a ticket (there are several competing companies), having your bags checked, declaring your currency and avoiding contributing to the daily income of everyone standing within a radius of five metres, while being jostled by muscular stevedores with massive loads on their heads all shouting loudly, can take an hour or more on each side if you don’t have someone to guide you through the ‘protocol’.  It is the sort of busy scene one would love to capture on video, but the mere hint of a camera emerging from bag or pocket would add yet hours to the ‘protocol’ and likely cost an arm and a leg, so you, Gentle Reader, will have to use your imagination!

Speedboat to Brazzaville Beach, small. Photo Ian Redmond.

It was late afternoon by the time I walked out of the warehouses that serve as customs offices on the famous Brazzaville Beach.  My old friend Dr Dieudonné Ankara met me – he is the GRASP Focal Point for the Congo Government and Scientific Advisor for Congo to the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), and he was the one who initiated Congo’s proposal to list all gorillas on the CMS Appendix 1 (before that, only Mountain Gorillas were listed), so in a way, the whole Gorilla Agreement and YoG campaign stem from his work.

Taking one of the ubiquitous green taxis that make getting around Brazzaville so easy, we went first to the Wildlife Conservation Society office to meet Dr Trish Reed, a veterinarian working on monitoring ape health who had been at the Entebbe workshop the week before. She had kindly offered the use of a spare room and logistical help for me to get around Congo.  Unfortunately, the timing was wrong – the director of WCS Congo, Paul Telford, was in South Africa with Minister Djombo, seeking investment for Odzala National Park, and no vehicles were heading out to projects. 

It seemed that the chances of my visiting the more remote gorilla habitats in Congo were, well, remote.  Instead, we called the newly appointed Focal Point of the Gorilla Agreement, Mr Florent Ikoli, and he suggested an immediate meeting.   Florent is also the Conservator of the Lésio-Louna Gorilla Reserve where the Projet Protection des Gorilles (PPG) is based.   

PPG is the pioneering collaboration between the UK-based Aspinall Foundation and the Ministry of Economic Forestry, which is rehabilitating confiscated orphan gorillas back into the wild. Its origins go back to the efforts of the late Yvette Leroi, who began rescuing baby gorillas from traders in the 1980s, and who I met on my first visit to Brazzaville in 1989, on an investigation into this trade for  the International Primate Protection League (www.ippl.org).

We drove over to the modest PPG Brazzaville office and I noted the minibus outside, beautifully painted with scenes of forests and gorilla families, clearly used for conservation education.  On the wall inside were posters and leaflets with the equally effective message that ‘baby apes + cash = PRISON’ – with a pair of hand-cuffed wrists to hammer home the point.  This campaign to stop the illegal trade in baby apes is also backed by other GRASP partners (JGI, LAGA and WCS) as well as the Ministry.  It is an essential adjunct to the more widely publicised and photogenic task of caring for the orphans.   To find out more about a related project on Wildlife Law Enforcement (supported by the YoG) for which you can donate through this blog, click here.

Orpans like this one, be they gorillas or chimps, need urgent help. The YoG supports a wildlife law enforcement project. Picture by Ian Redmond.

Florent gave us a brief summary of the success of the reintroduction work: so far eight babies have been born in the wild, and although sadly two have died, this is not considered unusual for first-time mothers (some studies report up to 40 per cent infant mortality in natural gorilla populations).  If all goes well, this disparate group of gorillas (including some born in Kent at Howletts and Port Lympne Zoos) will be the founders of a new free-living population in habitat that hasn’t seen a gorilla in decades.  Moreover, the communities are fully supportive of the project (perhaps now realising the value of what they had lost) and are already beginning to see benefits from the tourism that the gorillas attract.

As for visiting the site, this time I was in luck. Repairs to a project vehicle should be finished by the next morning, so I could get a lift.  And two groups of tourists were expected over the weekend, so a lift back on Sunday seemed likely too. 

My weekend was set, and I would see gorillas in Congo – just not the ones I still yearn to see up north, around Odzala and Nouabali-Ndoki National Parks, wading in and feeding on water plants while elephants and sitatunga stroll by in the bai.  Next time perhaps?

Coming soon:

29th – 31st August – PPG and PALF – Bottle-fed babies and prosecuting the traders

1st – 3rd September – Visa purgatory and visible progress towards LSD bushmeat.

Read Ian’s previous post here!

Good news from the PALF Law Enforcement Project (The Rep. of Congo)

Dear all,

An ivory dealer called Kamusu was arrested some months ago (linked with the dealer Ikama) and has been judged. The judges were very strict as Kamusu has to pay 2,000 Euros and stay 3 years in prison.

Moreover, 7 people who had stolen 195 tusks from the “Direction Départementale de l’Economie Forestière de la Sangha” were also strctly judged with several years in prison and several millions FCFA to pay.

Sincerely,
Luc Mathot
Coordinator

—————————————————

Bonjour à tous,

A trafiquant d’ivoire appelé Kamusu et arrêté il y a quelques mois dans le cadre du Projet PALF (et lié au trafiquant Ikama) a été jugé jeudi dernier. Les juges ont fait preuve de sévérité et ont condamné Kamusu à trois ans de prison fermes et une amende à payer de 2000 Euros.

Par ailleurs, les 7 responsables d’un vol de 195 défenses d’éléphants à la Direction Départementale de l’Economie Forestière de la Sangha ont été sévèrement jugés à plusieurs années d’emprisonnement ferme et à des amendes élevées.

Ces deux cas sont très encourageants et montrent clairement la prise de conscience positive des autorités.

Successes in Wildlife Law Enforcement

For the first time in Republic of Congo, a chimpanzee dealer was arrested and finally prosecuted. He was judged guilty and was sentenced to one year in prison and fined 1,100,000 CFA (1,679 Euro). This is the result of the Project PALF (Project to Apply the Fauna Law or Projet d’Appui à l’Application de la Loi Faunique), managed by The Aspinall Foundation and WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society). This project also benefits gorillas and you can donate for it!

Here you can watch PALF footage on Youtube.

Or you can watch the clips right here:

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PALF (Project for the Application of the Law for Fauna) Activities and Outcomes

This is to give you a better idea of the PALF project. They will start blogging themselves soon.

Following on from investigations co-ordinated by PALF in Brazzaville, a wildlife trafficker trading in panther pelts was identified in the capital’s main hotel. He was arrested on May 8th with the assistance of the local Department of Economic Forestry and police. There were two operations carried out on the 12th May, which led to the arrest of an ivory dealer and a wildlife trafficker selling chimpanzees (making this the second arrest of a chimpanzee trafficker since December 2008).

Gorilla orphan at the PPG rehabilitation project

In November 2008, a young orphan gorilla was also seized from a police officer that was attempting to sell it. The gorilla infant, named Loketo, was taken into care by ‘Projet Protection des Gorilles’ (www.ppg-congo.org), the world’s only successful gorilla rehabilitation and reintroduction project. He has now joined a group of 5 other orphans who will be reintroduced into a protected reserve within the next few years. With the support of the three-year old male Kingoue, Loketo continues to develop well.

The other main focus of the project is to encourage high-profile media attention regarding any trafficking-related arrests, as well as the subsequent sentences delivered to the people involved. With regards to the latter, a trafficker dealing in chimpanzees was sentenced to a year in prison in March 2009, becoming the first individual to be prosecuted for wildlife trafficking in the Republic of Congo.

Thanks to intensive media publicity, the Congolese people are becoming more aware of wildlife protection laws and the risks associated with the trafficking of protected wildlife or derived products – such as live great apes, panther skins or ivory.  

New Year of the Gorilla project focuses on Wildlife Law Enforcement

Today I would like to introduce a new YoG project: The PALF (Project to Apply the Law on Fauna) in the Republic of Congo. The input for this blogpost was provided by Luc Mathot of The Aspinall Foundation, and you will soon hear more from this exciting project.

PALF (Projet d’Appui à l’Application de la Loi sur la Faune Sauvage) aims to legally protect endangered species in The Republic of Congo by reinforcing the application of the law on wildlife protection and by discouraging potential hunters and wildlife traffickers. The main species targeted are gorillas, chimpanzees, elephants, leopards, parrots, mandrills and others.

Gorilla and Elephant Skulls, Picture by Ian RedmondThe most immediate threat to protected species in the Congo Republic is illegal hunting for bushmeat and animal parts and the capture of young great apes. These activities are illegal, but the lax application of the law has not curbed commercial trafficking and the killing of these species. PALF was established as a collaboration between the Aspinall Foundation and WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society), with the contribution of expertise from LAGA (Last Great Ape Organization). This NGO has been working in Cameroon for more than 6 years with very promising results which merit replication. The partners work in close collaboration with the Ministry of Forestry (MEF) and other government bodies (police, judiciary etc.).

  • The objectives of PALF are as follows:
    –exposing all traffickers of ape meat, live apes, ivory and other illicit animal products, and collecting solid evidence for action against them
    –arresting the people involved in this illegal activity
    –guaranteeing that legal action will be taken, and assuring that all verdicts will be enforced
    –raising awareness in the population through media coverage concerning the application of the law on wildlife protection and the risks and penalties applied.

To attain these objectives, PALF has received financial support from USFWS (US Fish and Wildlife Service) and will receive more through this blog in YoG 2009, making possible the recruitment of investigators, two lawyers and a journalist – a team which will need to be built up gradually.

The results obtained in Brazzaville after little more than 9 months have been very positive. Nine traffickers of animal products have been arrested (three cases involving ivory, four involving leopard pelts, one involving a mandrill pelt, one involving a gorilla and one involving a chimpanzee). Despite corruption and blackmailing attempts, one trafficker of chimpanzee products has been brought to trial in the Congo. The defendant was sentenced to one year in prison and fined 1,100,000 CFA (1,679 Euro). Between September 2008 and May 2009, more than 170 articles have been published or broadcast in the Congolese media (press, television and radio), with the result that the Congolese population (particularly in Brazzaville) is now well informed about the dangers and consequences of trafficking animal products.

Law enforcement is a priority both in situ within the protected areas and in regard to the trafficking of animal products between the wild animals’ habitats and the urban areas. We are hoping that different sponsors, NGOs and government organisations, will all get involved in similar projects to apply the experience from PALF. In this way, the PALF slogan “zero tolerance for crimes against wildlife” will become a reality in Central Africa. In the words of Leonardo Da Vinci: “The day will come when the killing of an animal will be punished in the same manner as the killing of a human.”