Tracking Time

38mm, 1/250s, f/5,6, ISO400

The Batwa are in many ways the Gorilla Highlands region’s forgotten people. The original inhabitants of this part of Africa, the Batwa are — or at least were — traditional hunter-gatherers, living in and off what used to be extensive forests. Marginalised by later arrivals, they were ousted from their final strongholds as those last, remaining woods were turned into national parks.

Despite the depth of their knowledge about the forests and the animals that inhabit them, not many of the new conservation areas employed Batwa as trackers or rangers. This was not the case in DR Congo’s Kahuzi-Biega National Park. In fact, the very first gorilla habituation that took place here — the Casimir family — was only successful because of an expert from the Batwa group, Pilipili. Today there are 50 Batwa gorilla trackers, 10 rangers and another four staff in the community conservation department at Kahuzi-Biega.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Kahuzi-Biega over the years, and the tracking skills of the Batwa I have worked with are uncanny. In addition to being an integral part of the gorilla habituation and monitoring process, creating employment for members of the Batwa community — most of whom lack formal education — seems like the right thing to do, a reparation of sorts for the way they have been treated in the past.

Don’t miss our extensive interview with Marcus and head to his website for even more.