DR CONGO

Elephants we protect, but nobody cares about the green pigeon

While it is considered little more than a pest in Western capitals, the pigeon is greatly appreciated by the Congolese… once it's roasted on skewers. So much so that, according to our Observer, protecting them has become a matter of urgency.

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While it is considered little more than a pest in Western capitals, the pigeon is greatly appreciated by the Congolese… once it's roasted on skewers. So much so that, according to our Observer, protecting them has become a matter of urgency.

More than 9% of the territory of the Democratic Republic of Congo is a “protected zone”, made up of national parks and reserves where endemic species like the mountain gorilla, the white rhinoceros or the okapi, are strictly protected.

Other projects are underway to transform other parts of the country into "protected zones". One of these projects, the TL2, aims to preserve the forest situated at the centre of the country, in the province of Maniema, between the Tchuapa, Lomami and Lualaba rivers. The promoters of the project want to protect the animals which are on the list of endangered species, such as the elephant, but also the animals that we are less worried about, like the African Green Pigeon, also known as the Colombar.

Found in several countries of this continent, there are thousands of these pigeons on the mudflats, the marshy zones that one finds along the Congolese coast. Here, they are easy prey for hunters. Once caught in the huge handmade nets, which are placed directly on the ground, these pigeons are sold on skewers at the local markets.

"Hunting is banned at the moment and yet poachers continue their carnage"

Terese Hart is one of the originators of the project to protect the African Green Pigeon. She has worked in Congo for around thirty years.

The Congolese are particularly interested in pigeons, having exterminated nearly all the mammals, such as elephants and hippopotamuses, who used to come to the mudflats. The hunting of pigeons has not been controlled, and as a result the number of African Green Pigeons has fallen dramatically.

Hunting these pigeons was legal up to two years ago. Thanks to the information that we provided to the provincial authorities, in 2009 the province of Maniema instituted, for the first time, a period in which the hunting of green pigeons was banned. Didier Manara, the governor, also declared that he wanted a detailed inquiry into the hunting of these birds.

The African Green Pigeons are captured using nets placed on the ground. Photo posted by Terese Hart on her blog.

The hunters collect the pigeons, one by one, twice a day. Photo posted by Terese Hart on her blog. 

This ban was respected and certain local tribes even participated in the fight against poaching. The locals didn’t dare touch a pigeon, even during the hunting season, for fear of being punished. Here, people have difficulty understanding what is legal and what is illegal. The hunters only returned last January, when the governor was forced to resign following accusations of corruption.

From then on, the regulation was no longer respected. Although hunting is banned at the moment, in August a member of our team claimed that the poachers continue their carnage. Three men were arrested by forest rangers. We hope that these arrests will put a stop to poaching for a while.

Forest rangers have to cover many kilometres, by foot or canoe, to reach the poachers' camp. Photo posted by Terese Hart on her blog. 

The hunted animals are sold at various markets, several kilometres away from the mudflats. But it is not the people who buy grilled pigeon who get in the way of protecting the species. I believe that eating habits are very flexible and that they change as soon as prices increase or a particular type of food becomes scarce. It is the hunters and the sellers of grilled pigeon who are primarily responsible.

What this region needs in the long term is for people to understand the rules concerning natural resources and to respect the laws regarding the protection of nature. A protected zone is on the brink of being created. After three years, we have succeeded in obtaining the agreement of the indigenous tribes. All that remains is to get the approval of the government, and then the park can be created.

The fact that both local and international organisations don’t consider the green pigeon to be a species under threat, and that they don’t protect it from poaching, makes our campaign more difficult. For other species, like the bobobo chimpanzee, it is quite obvious that their status as species under threat, allows us to fight against poaching."

The feathers of the pigeons are plucked whilst they are still alive, and they are skewered before being grilled. Here, they are being piled into handmade sacks. Photo posted by Terese Hart on her blog.

 

Stallholder selling grilled pigeon. Photo posted by Terese Hart on her blog.