Back from the Congo

I just returned from an amazing trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo with Dr. Kate Detwiler of Florida Atlantic University and Drs. John and Terese Hart. I can’t compete with their excellent blog‘s descriptions of the site, but I will say we saw tons of primates and a large chunk of massive, intact forest. Here’s a rough trace of our path:

It was the more remote field site I’ve ever been to. The last stretch was a bit intense: one day’s hike, two full days on a dug out canoe whose engine failed and then we limped into the port with only three liters of gas to spare, then a 300 km, 16 hour all-day ride on the back of dirtbikes on some of the worst roads I’ve seen with three major rivers to cross. That was a bit rough. We were flying along at 50+ kmh in the dark through an area infested with rogue police, and my driver, who spoke little English kept repeating, “Very dangerous” and “Pray to Jesus.”

All that and the dysentery that followed were well worth the experience though, and I’m so grateful to the Harts, our guide Pablo, and our other Congolese friends that put up with my having no idea what I was doing. And falling anytime we crossed a stream.

Our trip was, however, shadowed by the awful news of the terrible massacre at Epulu, the senseless killing of reserve staff, locals, and wildlife. For more information, please see Terese’s blog entry or this MetaFilter post for background information.

I have come away with the overall sense that D.R. Congo is a gorgeous, albeit precarious country. The people were open and friendly, and seemed excited we were there. I had honestly expected a more guarded welcome, having heard such awful stories of the nation’s history. I hope for their sakes and the animals’ that the turmoil in the eastern region does not boil over.

(The bonobos above are from Lola Ya Bonobo sanctuary, which I mentioned in the previous post. It’s truly an amazing place to visit, well worth the cab fare to get outside of Kinshasa. More photos of the trip can be seen here, if you’re interested.)

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