Once a refuge to huge populations of forest and savanna elephants, chimpanzees, bongos, and elk — as well as increasingly rare big cats like leopards and lions — the Mbomou-Uele region along the Democratic Republic of Congo’s northeast border is now a shadow of its former self having lost swathes of biodiversity over decades-long civil war. Violent militias infiltrated the remote landscape encompassing the Bili-Uele Protected Area Complex, Garamba National Park in DRC as well as the Chinko reserve in eastern Central African Republic. As they wreaked havoc on villages near these protected areas and displaced thousands of people, the heavily armed rebels also decimated species for the illegal wildlife trade.
Jean Niwiya has known both sides of the illegal wildlife trade. Before 2015, the 39-year-old father of eight made his living snaring small wildlife in the expansive Bili forest in the Bas-Uele Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo and selling it as bushmeat. He would mostly hunt antelopes and chimpanzees. Sometimes, he would go for bigger game, killing elephants primarily for their ivory, which he would sell for approximately US $100 per kilogram. With a tusk weighing 3 kilograms, he could feed his family for months. Niwiya did not know any other way of life.
The Bili-Uele Protected Area Complex in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo comprises a region anchored by four protected areas totaling more than 40,000 sq. kilometers. The landscape boasts the largest population of the endangered eastern chimpanzee subspecies and one of the DRC’s last populations of the vulnerable forest elephant.
With 2017 upon us, we wanted to take a moment and reflect on the triumphs and challenges of the year gone by. Below, three of AWF’s top conservationists share their thoughts on our biggest moments from 2016.
The animal world has been my passion since childhood. Conservation of nature, specifically the protection of species, has since become my career. For five years, I worked in the Lomako–Yokokala Faunal Reserve in western Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).