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Africa Geographic Travel

The town of Ouesso lies in the heart of the rainforest in northern Congo. Spider webs of logging roads emanate from the settlement, dissected by the ‘forest highway’ of the Sangha River. The town’s location and accessibility from the forest make it a hub for the illegal wildlife trade. Bushmeat is openly sold in the markets with little regulation. 

Although the spectacle of grimacing monkey carcasses and hacked crocodile tails on display at market stalls is an alarming sight to be confronted with, bushmeat has been an important source of protein for rural communities within the forest for centuries. However, today bush meat usage has evolved from the small scale, local consumption of the past and has developed into large-scale exploitation with trade, shifting to the lucrative business of transporting the meat to cities for consumption by the urban elite as a delicacy, thus rendering it completely unsustainable.

The transportation of large amounts of bushmeat away from rural forest communities to urban areas is illegal in the Republic of Congo. At the end of 2014, the governor of Sangha province issued a statement to reinforce the application of these environmental laws – an important move for both the wildlife of the region and its rural people whose livelihoods have come under threat due to the greedy exploitation of their primary food source.

In August 2015 the annual Congolese Independence Day celebration took place in Ouesso. Thousands of people travelled north from the more populated south of Congo to attend the Independence Day celebrations. The PALF (Project for the Application of Law for Fauna in the Republic of Congo) sniffer dogs were posted on the main road out of Ouesso to search the mass exodus of vehicles from the north during the days following the 15th.

Rick ready for action.
Rick ready for action.
2. Vehicles line up at Yengo-Mambili check point. A team of eco-guards from Odzala-Koukoua National Park permanently mans Yengo-Mambili control post. The boom gate is the only permanent wildlife product focused control post on the main road from northern Congo to the urban areas in the south.
Vehicles line up at Yengo-Mambili check point. A team of eco-guards from Odzala-Koukoua National Park permanently man Yengo-Mambili control post. The boom gate is the only permanent wildlife product focused control post on the main road from northern Congo to the urban areas in the south.
3. An African palm civet (Nandinia binotata) found in a vehicle heading south to Brazzaville.
An African palm civet (Nandinia binotata) found in a vehicle heading south to Brazzaville.
4. Three confiscated crocodiles keenly await their release as the team continues to search the constant flow of vehicles passing through the control post.
Three confiscated crocodiles keenly await their release as the team continues to search the constant flow of vehicles passing through the control post.
The dogs continue working late into the night when there is a much higher chance of illegal products being transported.
The dogs continue working late into the night when there is a much higher chance of illegal products being transported.
Busses loaded with luggage and passengers are searched. This requires encouraging all the passengers to exit the vehicle and wait beyond the barrier while the dogs search the interior of the bus.
Buses loaded with luggage and passengers are searched. This requires encouraging all the passengers to exit the vehicle and wait beyond the barrier while the dogs search the interior of the bus.
7. Passengers photograph the confiscated wildlife products piling up next to the road.
Passengers photograph the confiscated wildlife products piling up next to the road.
 An array of species from bush pig, tree pangolins, and several species of duiker, monkey and reptile are discovered during the mission.
An array of species from bush pig, tree pangolins, and several species of duiker, monkey and reptile are discovered during the mission.
A freshwater turtle shortly before its release.
A freshwater turtle shortly before its release.
The confiscated crocodiles are released back into a nearby forest river and swim away unscathed.
The confiscated crocodiles are released back into a nearby forest river and swim away unscathed.

Read more about dogs working in Africa: Conservation’s Best Friend 

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The Project for the Application of Law for Fauna in the Republic of Congo (PALF) has been fighting wildlife crime and corruption in the Republic of Congo since 2008. Their strategy is to increase the risk of coming against the law for wildlife crime and to end the sense of impunity held by wildlife criminals in the Congo. In this way PALF is assisting the Congolese government to work towards better application of wildlife laws in the hope of discouraging poachers and illegal traffickers from undertaking these crimes against nature.

Africa Geographic Travel
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