By Trip Jennings and Kyle Dickman; Photographs courtesy Kyle Dickman, Skip Brown, and Terese Hart
We just arrived this morning and I already want to leave Kisangani, a city of 700,000 in the center of Congo’s jungle. A cholera outbreak started in the city last week and left 27 dead—200 more cases have been reported. Andy and I are with Terese and John Hart, conservationists who have been working in the DRC for 30 years. They’ve agreed to help us plan our mission. But the question of where to start sampling elephant dung isn’t simple. The region Dr. Wasser wants us to sample most, the proposed Lomami National Park in the 25,000 square mile jungle known as TL2, has become even more dangerous.
The Harts, who have been a driving force behind the creation of Lomani National Park, had just received a letter from the one of their TL2-based supporters. It warned them of a man who is calling himself Moses and planting burning crosses—death threats—in the front yards of people who support the creation of Lomami National Park. President Kabila is expected to approve the park this year. That declaration could crack down on poachers operating in the region, which is why Moses opposes any additional protections to TL2.
"There’s so much conflict in the country that we don't know how many elephants are left in some of DRC’s biggest protected areas," says Dr. Samuel Wasser, the director of the Center for Conservation Biology. “One thing we do know is African elephant numbers are dropping, and a lot of ivory is coming from the Congo.” Samples from TL2 will help Wasser locate and stop poachers operating around the country.