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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Visiting Lomami National Park Before it was Officially a Park

Bonobos
Bonobos in a camera trap.

By Matt Muir 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working to conserve wildlife in some of the most remote and wild regions on Earth, and as a biologist for the Service’s Africa Program, I had never visited a site as remote as the newly established - then only proposed -  Lomami National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

RELATED: A Milestone in Conservation for Central African Wildlife

It takes multiple days of air travel for visitors to arrive in the city of Kindu on the banks of the Lualaba River, the greatest tributary of the Congo River and about 1,200 river miles from where the Congo empties into the Atlantic Ocean. From Kindu, it takes a full day by motorized transport and pirogue (a dug-out canoe traditionally made from a single tree trunk) to reach Chombe Kilima, a village in the park’s buffer zone. From Chombe Kilima, you hike. And hike and hike and hike.

  Bonobo NestA bonobo nest. Photo by Terese Hart

We forded rivers up to our neck, crossed open savannas with orchids and other botanical marvels, and passed through primary rainforest under the leaf nests built daily by bonobos, one of human’s closest relatives and nicknamed the “make-love-not-war” ape.

  mapThe Tshuapa-Lualaba-Lomami Landscap is a remote landscape in the middle of the Democratic Republic of Congo, home to bonobos, forest elephants, gray parrots and other species.

  orchid
An orchid (Eulophia cucullata) is one of the botanical marvels found in the savannas of Lomami National Park. Photo by Matt Muir/USFWS

When I first visited in December 2014, I was with a dynamic team working to make the national park a reality. This broad group of conservationists included DRC’s protected area authority, the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN); governors from the two provinces of Maniema and Orientale who had taken a critical first step by granting provincial park status to Lomami; community members and elders surrounding the park who had helped define its boundaries, and a technical team from the Lukuru Wildlife Research Foundation, also known as the TL2 Project.

It was with the TL2 Project team, including Drs. John and Terese Hart that I hiked into the wilderness. The Harts are a husband and wife team that has worked in DRC since arriving as Peace Corps volunteers in the 1970s. You can read more about the TL2 Project’s achievements, the Harts and the rest of the team, and highlights of the Service’s support for on-the-ground conservation efforts at Lomami at the blog of Terese Hart’s field notes (Searching for Bonobo in Congo). 

  Shining-Blue KingfisherAn aptly named shining-blue kingfisher (Alcedo quadribrachys) on the banks of the Lomami River. This dramatically colored kingfisher occurs from Senegal to Uganda. Photo by Matt Muir/USFWS

Apart from the signs of bonobos mentioned above, we were fortunate to also see monkeys such as the black mangabey, birds like the shining-blue kingfisher and the crested Guineafowl, and a variety of fish, reptiles and herps. Seeing large wildlife in a dense rainforest is an uncommon occurrence across the Congo Basin, so I was overjoyed to turn my attention to the area’s abundant and spectacular insect life. I was particularly interested to look for dragonflies and damselflies because the area had never been surveyed for these species.

 Rhyothemis A dragonfly species (Rhyothemis splendens) not seen since 1952 when it was first described for science. Photo by Matt Muir/USFWS

I’m a complete amateur in the study of insects, so I took photos and shared with experts. To all our delight, I had photographed a dragonfly species that had not been seen since 1952 when it was first described for science. The experts, Drs. KD Dijkstra and Jens Kipping, described this observation as the “MEGA-discovery” of the trip.

 Rhyothemis KD Dijkstra and Jens Kipping identified the dragonfly species and highlighted the significance of the observation. The genus Rhyothemis are known as the “flutterers” and resemble butterflies in flight. Photo by Matt Muir/USFWS

More discoveries surely await Lomami National Park and I’m extremely proud to work for the Service and with our partners in the field to help explore and conserve the wildlife and habitats of this under-explored part of the world.

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