Its the wet season in the Congo where I am currently stationed.The days are hot, humid and steamy.We have just had a 30 minute tropical, torrential downpour. The rain has stopped and its back to square one. Drenching sweat instead of rain now cools the body.
This morning, last rites were paid to the ranger shot dead on patrol on Tuesday afternoon. The company flag flies at half mast and the camp is silent. Tomorrow Kurt and I will go out into the " domain" and gather what evidence there is at the scene and compile a murder docket. Yes, there are no police here or anywhere in the country outside the main centres to document the circumstances of his death and mount an investigation to bring the culprits to book. To them,and many millions of others in the dark soul of Africa, it's just another statistic to be washed away and forgotten where hundreds die daily without a whisper
The first information reaching the base at 20h00 on Tue 8 Aug, was that an ICCN patrol in the Garamba was ambushed by poachers whilst in hot pursuit. The patrol had an initial success when they surprised intruders in the two meter high savannah which covers 90% of the park The initiative lay with the patrol. Shots were fired and the poachers fled dropping bundles containing what later turned out to be sawn off chunks of ivory taken presumably from an elephant into the " Domain de Chasse". Best explained, the area around the park populated by locals into which the elephant stray in search of fodder.
Cock a hoop with their success, the patrol blundered on into the only clump of forest in the vicinity.There the trap was sprung. In a blaze of AK fire, the tables were turned. The rangers dropped their prize, including a machine gun, turned and fled. The rangers left in their wake one dead and one wounded, who was shot through the lower parts of his legs.The unfortunate victim had taken a bullet in his back which exited through his throat. But that was only determined later for the remaining six rangers bolted to their base and promptly went to sleep without posting any guards or making defensive arrangements!
The terrified radio operator who had fled to parts better known to himself, sent in the initial report
That was the state that Kurt found them on his arrival in the vicinity at 01h00 on Wednesday morning. You don't have to tell a Flemish speaking ex Belgian paratrooper what to do next. He recovered the body on indications, rescued the abandoned wounded man, recovered a discarded machine gun, but not the ivory or a high frequency radio with all our channels now in the hands of the poachers , who by all indications, had fled north towards the Sudanese border.
On Kurt's return to base the next day on a ferry over the flooded Dungu river, the funeral cortège was accompanied by wailing men, women and children on its way to the village in which he had lived.
Life in the Congo,death rites, debilitating rangers, lack of resources etc prevented an immediate follow-up, hence the reason for tomorrow' s mission to gather in what evidence remains, and then maybe oneday, with a properly documented record and a highly unlikely arrest, justice can then be done.
On a brighter note, the day proceeding this unfortunate incident, I was in the skies once again being given a conducted aerial recee of the park and its limited resources.
Taking away the devastation of the once highly organized camps, elephant training centres etc visited by thousands, my breath was taken away by the pure majesty that nature had carved in this garden of Eden. Savannah clad undulating country revealed a kaleidoscope of lush green grass, riverine forest and sparkling blue streams, swamps and rivers. Over 400 water courses in all There were herds of buffalo below, Congolese giraffe, prides of lions, pockets of elephants (badly depleted), hippos galore and, and, and. But no sign of the threatened northern white rhino which is the principal reason why we are here.Poachers camps were evident everywhere and I yearned to find one occupied Here a different type of process would have been brought into the equation.
We landed at two ranger camps , and on an instinct, I searched one.The body language was wrong. Need I Tell you what we found? Anyway, the first proven disciplinary action against rangers and " support soldiers" -nothing more than brigands and scum from the many warlords armies which abound who have been added to the equation to " protect" the animals, has now been brought to the attention of the administrators and being vigorously pursued.
The camp itself ; much like those of you who know the Matabeleland village of Nkai. Sprawling, a lot better shaded, on the banks of a river (altho the Shangani river was some distance away at Nkai), a lion cub running around, rescued from a poacher,a young baboon and vervet monkey playing merrily together. And yet another monkey riding on the back of a goat!
And the birdlife????? Throw away all your sightings until you have seen what the Congo offers. Earlier, I sent out a pic of a paradise sunbird to those who really love their birds.
Oh! - I can hear the roars of a lion close by. The night calls
Never in my life have I heard such a melody of tryogodolite sound as I begin to succumb to the stars which shine so brightly above.