I wrote a new post for the blog about my Congo trip today, covering a conversation I had with the chief of the tiny and isolated village of Lole about the way animal populations have changed in the forest that surrounds his village in the past thirty years. That’s him in the picture above, trying on the leopard mask from the project. It was a pretty interesting conversation, dealing with the idea of shifting baselines- where each successive generation comes to see the environment it grew up in as normal- never really coming to grips with the ecological changes that happens during the previous generation. This means that young people in central and eastern Africa are growing up, for the first time ever, in lands with no elephants.
A couple of days ago, I heard from Terese Hart, author of the Bonobo in Congo blog and the sponsor of my recent conservation project in Congo, that the notorious poacher Morgan had been killed by the Congolese army. Morgan was a murderous psychopath who had terrorized the Ituri forest for decades, culminating in his massacre of rangers and staff at the Okapi Wildlife Reserve field station in 2012, the previous time that I was in Congo. Unfortunately, the trick that worked on Morgan won’t work on the warlord Thoms, who terrorizes the region where I was recently working- it already worked on him in 2007, resulting in his capture and imprisonment, from which he subsequently escaped. The killing of Morgan means something, but it’s not certain what. Will his lieutenants take up his banner, or will his organization crumble? Congo isn’t like Mexico, where criminal organizations control vast territories and are able to move swiftly on good roads, communicating with cellphones and radios. Congo’s maniacs are isolated. We await news of what happens next.