Elephant Ivory Project continued this week, explorers Trip Jennings and Andy Maser forging ahead with their work. As you may recall from previous posts on this expedition, Trip and Andy have made their way to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in hopes of collecting samples of elephant dung from a number of distinct herds in the country. When they've completed that collection, they hope to build a "DNA map" which will help them to better understand the movement of the animals and the impact that poaching is having on the herds. The ultimate goal of the project is to be able to trace the spread of illegal ivory trade and shut it down completely.
When we last checked in with the team, they had left the city of Kisangani behind and were traveling to the remote research station of Obenge, located on the Lomami River. There, they hoped to begin their research in ernest by collecting samples from 30 unique elephant herds that roam the area. But this week's journal entry, posted on the team's website, indicates that the work is going slower than expected.
Andy, Trip, and their guides arrived in Obenge last week following two days of travel by motorcycle from the nearby city of Kindu. Once there, they began a four-day hike through the jungle in search of the elephant scat that is so important to the project, but unfortunately all they found were massive amounts of insects and poachers. The insects were so bad at one point, that the travelers didn't leave their tent at night, as a massive number of army ants had invaded their campsite, and it wasn't going to be pretty if they strayed out too far.
Unfortunately, after four very long days in the bush, they returned to Obenge empty handed. They didn't find any elephants at all, but did discover a clearing that was once used be the creatures for grazing for food. They estimated that it had been a number of years since the herds were in the area, but considering the forest they are exploring is approximately the size of West Virginia, they weren't too worried about where the elephants were located.
Trip and Andy were however happy to find that a second team, working in conjunction with them, had more success on their excursion into the jungle. That group returned to camp with five samples of elephant dung, far below the 30 they're hoping to find in the region, but a solid start none the less.
Also of note in the journal entry for this week is that the Congolese military had a clash with poachers in the TL2 forest region as well. The poachers were most like there to collect ivory, and a shootout ensued that left one of them wounded and all three taken into custody. The team encountered poachers of a different kind when they were on their four-day hike as well. They came across a camp that was occupied by a man who was illegally collecting bird species to sell on the open market. The man had a permit to capture the birds, but not in the protected region of TL2. Officials have been called in to shut down the operation, but both of these incidents give you an indication of how wide spread and problematic poaching can be in Africa.
To get the full effect story on the expedition, you really should read the journal entries, which are found by clicking here. They give you a great sense of what it is like for Trip and Andy on the ground in the Congo, and what they are dealing with in terms of living conditions and local attitudes. This is quite the adventure that is playing out at this very moment.
Photo courtesy the Elephant Ivory Project