Around two years ago it became too dangerous for the Wildlife Service, locals or us to work in Bangangai Game Reserve. We'd previously been working with rangers and community members to protect the Reserve and find out what wildlife lived there.
The ranger post had been overrun by anti-government rebels who terrorised people nearby, policing them violently and setting up checkpoints with no authority or legitimate mandate.
The security situation has eased and we were able to do a recce visit to the old ranger post. The bush was thick and it had to be cleared. Apart from an old pit latrine (which came in handy) nothing remains. The army who liberated the post of rebels burnt all the mud and thatch huts so they couldn't return. The homesteads that line the track to the main road are overgrown and abandoned. As we walked and bushwhacked one of the old rangers, Tartizio, indicated his place. 'It is now grass.'
Only in the last few months have people made the 20-mile return journey from Congo to re-establish their lives here. Roads and villages are much quieter than they normally would be. Market stalls are shuttered up, thatch usually well tended is decaying and sagging off roofs. With the population drifting back tentatively, people are farming collectively to ensure everyone has enough to eat. No cash economy exists here. We paid the community a small amount for trail clearing and they announced how grateful they were as they could now buy soap.
Bangangai is well known for its butterfly diversity and they fluttered on and around us all day, feeding on the salt in our sweat. The community reported they heard chimps recently and regularly see tracks of wildlife including bongo antelope.
We made notes on the current situation so we can report back and make plans to support activities back here. A jaunt into beautiful Bangangai to get a feel for the Reserve, enough water to wash my face but nothing more, followed by rice and beans and a quiet Friday night in camp.