Loving African wildlife as I do, it is always a pleasure when I get to help the parks here in Congo. Rosie Ruf organized an aerial survey to check for poachers and illegal mining within the Okapi reserve so Cher and I flew out for 3 days. It was great to be back in the forest and be over so much of it again. I had done about 4 days earlier in June and this was finishing up the process. This kind of survey is totally different from the game counts I used to do in Zimbabwe. The forest is SO thick with layers of canopy that you can rarely see animals on the ground unless they are in one of the small openings called an “ido”. We try to find where populations of people are moving into the park and cutting trees or poaching, (which we usually find by smoke for the fires to cure meat), but also to see where illegal mining is going on. The rivers get dug up and mercury and other harsh chemicals are dumped into the rivers and everything downstream dies. It is pretty bad. This is not our normal flying but it is good to help the country and protect the wildlife.
So we put 3 people in the plane and I fly routes through the park along rivers and boundaries and where there are known incursions and see where patrols need to be sent. This eastern part Congo where we live is much like gold rush days in California or Alaska and there are 1000’s of men and women and boys working little streams all over. I will have to write more about that sometime because it is very interesting seeing the similarities of lifestyle now in Congo and in the mid 1800’s in the US. We are always being asked to “promote” or “Grub steak” a guy who wants enough to get picks and shovels and all the little things he needs to get started on a claim. They come back with tiny little glass bottles with a few gold flakes in them and you wonder how they make a living. But then someone pulls out a nugget and people stay on. There are claim jumpers and bandit groups who rob the miners and saloons and whore houses and all the stuff that we had in the Wild West gold rush days. There are co-ops and big Chinese mines with heavy equipment dredges in the rivers as well as strip mining the beautiful riverine vegetation. In Doko, a South African company is running what will be the most productive gold mine in the world that is massive and run very professionally.
I had a chance to walk in the forest one morning for hours with the Pygmies. I truly love that. They are born hunters and gatherers and know the forest like the back of their hands. Fruit, honey, mushrooms, monkeys, forest pigs and animals of all sorts are on the menu and it is fascinating to see how they gather it all and their traditions and culture. I was with 6 men who were all below shoulder height to me and I felt like Snow White with the 7 dwarfs or something very surreal as we moved quietly through the forest. They are as comfortable in their natural environment as I am in the air.
We had a chance to be with Chui, the little Genet that Cher raised for many weeks when he was only a few weeks old. He remembered us, which was nice, and we played till my arms were shredded with little bites and scratches. He is full grown now and about the size of a cat with shorter legs and the most striking spotted coat and longer stripped tail. So much fun.