For Dodo Tshidinda, a typical day at work looks nothing like what you might expect. Traversing hundreds of kilometers on a motorcycle deep in the Congo Basin rainforest is par for the course for Dodo, African Wildlife Foundation’s Program Officer in the Democratic Republic of Congo. So are days with no internet connectivity or phone signal.
As most of the world currently works from home and shelters in place due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, 36-year-old Dodo has not slowed down but redoubled his efforts in service to his community.
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There are parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo that does not make the news.
In spite of a history of political instability, the Democratic Republic of Congo is an ecological paradise.
Located in Central Africa, DRC is one of the most important countries in Africa for biodiversity conservation. More than 81 million people live here — as do a number of spectacular endemic species like the okapi, Grauer’s gorilla, bonobo, and Congo peacock along with over 400 other species of mammals, over 1,000 bird species, over 400 fish species, and over 10,000 species of plants.
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.