An Open air trial and a new National Park!


Izzy Parsons

Date Published

A Bright Spot Deep in the Forest

Deep in the Congo forest, one small organization has taken a stand against poaching. The Lukuru Foundation has been working for the past 10 years in one of the remotest, most biodiverse regions, with help of some elements of the Congolese military. Their recent efforts to halt the rampant poaching crisis prevalent in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) culminated in April with the dramatic, open-air trial of rogue Congolese forces involved in elephant poaching.

Emergency funding

Back in 2013, during a funding hiatus, the Elepahnt Crisis Fund (ECF) provided the Lukuru Foundation with emergency support to maintain their Elephant Project in TL2 (the codename given to the region). According to Dr. John Hart, the Scientific and Technical Director of the project, this funding “…arrived at a crucial juncture, allowing us to establish a functional working relationship with military (FARDC) based at Obenge, in the heart of the PNL elephant range”.

This relationship and support to FADRC would prove invaluable in later years when the Lukuru TL2 project turned its attention to the prosecution process. The early investment into Lukuru Foundation’s Project is a case study in how the ECF operates. We look to provide early investment with minimal bureaucracy and no administrative deductions so that partners can act quickly and effectively and have maximum impact.

The military’s unexpected arrival

The unannounced arrival of a company of 200 military from the FARDC 10th brigade to the TL2 base camp in February 2013 was initially a major cause for concern to the Lukuru team, due to FARDC’s track record of involvement with elephant poaching elsewhere. However the 10th brigade had arrived ostensibly on a short-term security mission in pursuit of deserters who had aligned themselves with poachers led by the MaiMai Colonel Thoms. This local commander of the MaiMai (a rebel militia) was a force to be reckoned with, having been supplied by the military with arms and ammunition for elephant poaching for many years. To read more about Thoms click here.

With ECF support, the Lukuru Foundation was able to integrate men from the 10th brigade into patrols and operationalize them by providing rations, communications and transport. During this time, TL2/Lukuru staff made strong relations with commanders of the 10th brigade, several of whom were dedicated to putting an end to abusive practices within the militia.

Open air trial

Some of these involved in the abusive practices were drawn to light in April this year. An unprecedented trial of five members of the military took place in Orientale Province’s capital, Kisngani. Some of these men, who included two captains and a lieutenant, are from the same MaiMai militias that rape, torture and pillage the isolated populations of the Lomami Park buffer zone. Both Captains have been sentenced to 3 years in a top security prison in Ossio. This is a great achievement for all involved in the process and a warning to all those who continue in the ivory trade. For further detail of the trial process read here.

Building the foundations

Had key authorities not been aware of Lukuru Foundation support to troops on the ground, in earlier years, the momentum for Lukuru’s pursuit of the criminals would not have existed. The Lukuru Foundation were able to support investigations and make appeals into these cases, because of the proof of Lukuru Foundations’ earlier support for FARDC, consolidated by the ECF intervention.

Lomami, a new National Park

This prosecution success has not been the Lukuru Foundation’s only significant achievement in recent months. On July 7th 2016, Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo of the DRC officially established Lomami National Park, the first new national park in over four decades. In 2007, the Lukuru Foundation explored these forests and found not only forest elephants but an entirely new species of monkey (Cercopithecus lomamiensis), Congo peacocks, unique to Congo and a multitude of other fauna residing there. ECF support helped in the creation of this park by helping to stabilize security in the area. The vast new park covers 3,400 square miles of Congo Basin rainforest, nearly twice the size of Delaware State and has more Congo endemics than any other protected area in the country. Read more about the new park here.

Open air trial

DRC Open air trial

Defendants being brought in to the court

Defendants being brought in to the court

Handing out the verdict

Handing out the verdict

All images courtesy of Dr. Terese Hart