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Friday, October 31, 2008

Petting Leopard in Zoo

These two were petting a "tame" leopard at the Kinshasa Zoo, Zaire (now the Democratic Rebublic of the Congo). They did not realize it, and the Congolese were too polite to tell them, but the zoo staff and public were aghast at the spectacle. For them, the lesson for the crowd was that zoo animals could be petted. The leopard had been hand reared by expatriates, so it was approachable, but certainly not worth risking a finger or hand.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Calendar of Animal Butts

Zookeeping is a unique profession and seasoned zookeepers have an earthy, somewhat scatological outlook on the job. So it is no surprise that the Hogle Zoo (Salt Lake City) zookeeper chapter of the American Association of Zookeepers (AAZK) published a tongue-in-cheek pinup 2007 calendar of animal rear-ends.

This closeup of a gorilla hind end was for a good cause for wildlife conservation, with each "pinup" having a earth wise tip, such as "bring your old cell phones to the Hogle Zoo for recycling. The money raised goes to gorilla conservation."

To learn more about zookeeping, visit

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Two Jaguars in Crates

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has been helping Guyana with conservation projects for the past four years, including wildlife surveys by the Iwokrama International Center for Rainforest Conservation, helping the zoo in Georgetown, and funding an updating of the nation's wildlife laws.

In January of 2006, the senior veterinarian, Dr. Nick Kapustin and I went to Georgetown to bring back two female jaguars that had been captured as kittens (their mothers having been killed as livestock pests). There had actually been a third animal, but it was also shot by the owner because it had gotten big and was becoming dangerous.

After over two weeks of surprises, twists, waiting, lots of logistical arrangements, waiting, paperwork, and more waiting, these two jaguars were crated, flown to Miami, and then trucked to Jacksonville. Today, the zoo is trying to breed them to contribute new genetic material to the captive population.

The two big cats are maintained at the state of the art Range of the Jaguar exhibit, on permanent loan from the government of Guyana. The zoo is committed to future conservation projects in Guyana. A local newspaper, the Times Union, sent journalist Roger Bull and photographer Jon Fletcher to document the trip.

Photos by: J. Fletcher, Times Union

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Lucy Bonobo On Top

Mom looks bored, but Lucy seems ready to take on the world. Lorel and Lucy are two bonobos at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. Lucy is around five years old, so she is learning the social customs of the group. She will learn how to be a good mother herself, by assisting in the rearing of siblings and half-siblings.

Photo by: M. Brickner

Monday, October 27, 2008

Apes: Don't Buy This Baby

Kizito and I produced a poster that school children could color. The three part text was simple, explaining the high death rate of chimpanzees taken for the pet trade, the very poor pets that they became, and the fact that chimps could carry disease to humans.

The poster was designed for the expatriate and wealthy locals, to educate on the pet trade in apes. It used chimpanzees as the example, since the majority of apes seen in the market were chimps (bonobos were indirectly included, since they were called pygmy or black-faced chimps). The poster was translated into French and Lingala. Students at TASOK (The American School of Kinshasa) colored the posters and distributed them to businesses in downtown capital.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Mountain Gorillas in Danger

On the news today, rebels under General Laurent Nkunda seized the Virunga Park in eastern Democratic of the Congo, home to 200 of the 700 known mountain gorillas. After fierce fighting with the army regulars, 50 park rangers were forced to abandon their posts and flee for safety through the forest.

The rebels have set up roadblocks on the main road heading north into Goma, which is close to the Park headquarters. Although it is doubtful that the rebels would deliberately harm the gorillas, (they are seen as an important economic resource in the area), animals may be killed in crossfire, or by displaced people desperate for meat.

Twenty-three years ago I stayed at the Virunga park for 5 days. The wildlife was plentiful and the park boasted the heaviest concentration of hippos in the world. The six of us Peace Corps Volunteers had the entire park to ourselves -- there were no other visitors.

I remember fishing with bamboo poles, along a cliff overlooking hundreds of hippos bathing and wallowing on mud flats in a river. after we caught around twenty tilapia, the workers cooked them with local potatoes and carrots, for our lunch.

And then a small plane flew overhead, following the winding river, as if it was a landmark highway. Far away, and then closer and closer as the airplane approached, the hippos lifted their heads and bellowed their honking grunts as it passed overhead. Their hippo noises faded in the distance with the parting drone of the plane.

I have learned that most of the hippos I saw years ago have been slaughtered in the internecine conflicts that have raged back and forth across this beleaguered land. That is bad enough, but due to its restricted range, the mountain gorilla is dependant on fragile, volatile political systems.

One hundred years from now, no one will know or care about what is transpiring today in the affairs of man. But the extinction of a species of ape, so similar to us, will be a tragedy that mankind won't be able to easily erase.

To see a video about the fighting near the Virunga Park, see

For further information about the Gorillas of the Virunga visit

Photos as posted by: CNN

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Eckert's Wild Season

Wild Season, published in 1967, was a book that influenced my life and my career choice. The author, Allan Eckert, explained in a simple, matter of fact style, the circle of life, during thirty days of a spring month.

On the first day in May, the reader follows the metamorphosis of a tadpole into a bullfrog. Just as a great blue heron is poised to spear the frog, the young frog, in a fortuitous fraction of timing, leaps at a mayfly, and narrowly misses becoming the bird's meal. Eckert deftly describes the events that happen to the frog in the next 24 hours after it leaves the pond. The reader is completely absorbed in the frog's struggle to eat and not be eaten.

But then, the frog makes a fatal mistake by bobbing carelessly on the water's surface while swallowing a beetle. He is snapped up by a large-mouthed bass. The frog becomes fuel to drive the female fish to spawn in a nest (a "redd") and her roe is inseminated by a male who will guard the eggs until the babies hatched.

On the third day of May, the female bass is caught by fishermen and dispatched for their dinner. Her entrails and bones are thrown in the river and Eckert vividly described the life that comes to feast on the remains of the fish. Finally, a raccoon comes and makes off with the head. As the days of May trickle by, plants, animals, and people travel on interconnected paths -- a raccoon, meadowlark, a bot fly, a grain of wheat, a rabbit, a snapping turtle, a boy who wants to kill a bull snake, and others.

Reading Eckert's book now, I am struck by his bias -- the ugly water snake, the wicked-looking head of the snapping turtle, and the decidedly ugly creature, a bot fly. Today, these anthropomorphic comments are out of style, but I didn't dwell on the negativity when I first read it. What made Wild Season an earth-shattering book for me was the ending, which brought everything full circle, and made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.

As Eckert himself wrote, "For in nature's book, everything has its place and its time; there exists a persistent interdependency of its creatures one upon another." Wild Season may be over 40 years old, but it is still a great read, and used copies are available online.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Monkeypox Field Freezer

This image highlights the juxtaposition between modern technology and the real word in central Africa. This liquid nitrogen filled, vacuum pulled tank was the ultracold "freezer" that enabled tissues to be transported from the field to the laboratory. A filled tank would last from six to eight weeks under normal conditions.

In 1986 and 1987, the samples carried in these tanks were tested for evidence of monkeypox virus. They were shipped from Zaire (now the Democratic of the Congo) to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and to a Moscow reference laboratory. At that time, only these two facilities were allowed to keep the smallpox virus (and conduct research on the related monkeypox virus).

In the photograph, the tank is lashed to bamboo for transport balanced on the shoulders of porters, one in front, and one behind. Now, the tank is being placed in a pirogue, a hollowed out log canoe, for a river crossing. The "rope" is local fiber and there are a pair of extra plastic sandals tied to the tank. (No one in the African jungle wore leather or closed foot gear, due to the risk of fugal infection).

The story that goes with this scene is that one of the workers went with the porters to take a filled tank back to the road, while I stayed in the village to continue the work. They were met by a villager who attacked them (for reasons not clear to me -- maybe to steal) In the fracas, the liquid nitrogen tank tipped over. As per industry standard, the tank cannot be sealed tight, so the insulated cap fits loosely in the neck.

As they related, a cloud of steam billowed up -- the escaping liquid nitrogen, at minus 320 degrees Fahrenheit. The attacker was frightened and ran off, while the porters quickly righted the tank. There was no harm done, but the incident could have turned deadly. In any case, the samples arrived in good shape halfway around, and on either side, of the world.

Photo by: D. Messinger

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Jaguars as Ambassadors for the Wild

The Range of the Jaguar exhibit at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens links the living cats to in situ conservation. In situ is a term meaning "within the natural habitat of a species," in contrast to ex situ, meaning "outside of the natural habitat of a species." In other words, in situ is the wild range and ex situ is captivity. The zoo's jaguars are ambassadors for jaguars in Guyana, South America, one of the range countries where the zoo has been helping with wildlife conservation.

The award winning exhibit currently has seven animals, the largest group of animals in any AZA (American Association of Zoos and Aquariums) facility. Jaguars are typically solitary, so they cannot all be on display at the same time. One, or two compatible animals are rotated into two different, side by side exhibits, while the other animals lounge in spacious off-exhibit housing.

The graphics introduce the visitor to the importance of jaguar symbolism to local peoples. To reflect the respect given the animal, jaguar comes from Yaouar an Amerindian term that means "a beast that kills its prey with a single bound."

In historical times, jaguars were worshiped by the Maya and the Olmecs, but today, there are serious conflicts between man and the predatory cat. Due to the displacement of wildlife with livestock ranching, there is less prey available for jaguar. The big cats also will hunt cattle and sheep, and in turn, they are destroyed as pests. There are also cats killed on roads. Finally, protected areas are often too small to provide sustainable populations because the animals have such large home ranges.

Photos by: D. Messinger

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Gallery Forest

This photograph was taken in Bandundu, the Democratic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), where the tropical rain forest transitions into grassy savanna. The terrain is a patchwork of forest and grassland. The higher elevations of the hills have savanna that is cut abruptly, as if snipped by scissors, into the forest. All around, the hilltops look like the bare heads of tonsured priests.

The southernmost research study site of bonobos, at Lukuru, has a mosaic of forest and grassland similar to the above. Historically, bonobos may have extended south, even into the country of present day Angola, along forested river corridors, but there is no proof of this today.

Photo by D. Messinger

Monday, October 20, 2008

Out On A Limb...

In mid-September, I went to Milwaukee for the annual September conference of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA). While visiting the hosting zoo (Milwaukee County Zoo), I noticed conservation messages throughout the grounds. Even a grove of trees warranted signage with information about the importance of forests, and three simple things one can do -- remove invasive plants, plant native plants, and join a conservation organization.

Today, modern zoos are powerful organizations. With our urban lifestyles, where else but a zoo to provide compelling conservation arguments against a backdrop of living plants and animals? The message can be as complex as climate change and the future of polar bears, or as simple as "go plant a tree."

Photos by D. Messinger

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Bamboo and Barrel Running Water

One of the things that I did, while living in the tiny village of Omendjadi as a Peace Corps volunteer, was to fashion a gutter under the eaves to catch rainwater. Metal was not available and my gutter was giant bamboo that I split in half. I lashed it to a framework about five feet off of the ground (there was no way to attach it directly to the roof). Because the falling rainwater was spread out at the point of contact with my gutter, I had four gutter "troughs" laid side by side to catch the majority of the water.

Another bamboo piece carried the water through a hole cut in the metal grate at the kitchen window, to drop into a 55 gallon metal drum inside. I could also prop the bamboo trough up when the barrel was full, to "turn off" the flow of water. During the rainy season, my simple bamboo and barrel system supplied my needs in drinking, cooking, and washing water. In the dry season, it was not so easy.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Bonobo Lucy, Queen of the Jungle

This picture symbolizes the epitome of a feisty primate. Even though Lucy, a bonobo at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is still very young, and even though she is just playing, her look is something that translates to humans as self-confidence. In the bonobo world, females dominate, which is something a bit unusual in the ape realm.

Recent news (Current Biology, 14 Oct) shows that female and male bonobos cooperate in hunting and eating monkeys. M. Surbeck, and G. Hohmann of the Max Plank Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology have reported that both sexes will silently approach monkeys in trees, from below, then leap up to try and capture them.

This is startling new behavior, for an ape that has only been known to take small duikers, squirrels, and other rodents. The researchers observed the successful hunt of a redtailed monkey (Cercopitecus ascanius) and two Wolf's guenon (C. wolfi).

It is almost unheard of for a female chimp to hunt, so this report is startling for the bonobo, an ape species known for its peaceful tendancies. "That females are hunting at all came as a surprise, but a few of them are truly excellent hunters," Hohmann said. "We just did not expect that."

Photo by M. Brickner

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Frog in a Bucket

The staff had a great time coming up with the title of October's special enrichment day at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. "Frogtober" will be this Saturday, October the 18th. All day long, the keepers will be putting out frog related toys, and the public can appreciate the natural stalking, relaxing, searching, eating, hunting, and playing behaviors of a wide variety of species.

A duel message of "Frogtober" is the fact that many species of frogs are threatened with extinction. The zoo has the Save the Frogs! Amphibian Conservation Center where many rare and beautiful species are exhibited. Guests can learn about the threats to their survival, and what they can do to help.

Photo by: Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bleu Blanc # 5

Kizito and I had a strategy to get the children to read our Bleu/Blanc magazine -- a contest with multiple choice questions, with answers in the text. Students could send the completed coupons to their school administrators, who would forward them on to the magazine. Prizes included pens, pencils, notebooks, calculators, and other school supplies. The grand winners were announced on television, and all prizes were picked up at at a well-known toy store. The store handled all of the logistics of the distribution, in exchange for being the "site" for children to visit.

The title story (featured on the cover) was a love story, but, like all of our comics, it featured important information about the social issues of the day. For "Boyfriend-Girlfriend" a side story discussed the importance of blood banks (there were 300 people per day needing blood in Kinshasa, the capital, and many died due to lack of blood donors) as well as the biology of sickle cell anemia.

Every issue had science lessons. For number five, we had an article on the importance of tropical bats, raising chickens, and malaria.

For the ten questions in the issue, an example of four are:

--Among the following elements, only one can contribute to reducing mosquito populations: a) water, b) geckos, c) plants, d) empty containers, e) clothing. (The answer is "b").

-- Sickle cell anemia is called a double-edged sword because a) it causes blood loss, b) it is a genetic disease, c) the red-blood cells can clog the capillaries, d) it protects the carriers against malaria. (The answer is "d").

--To detect its prey, insectivorous bats a) makes a noise that can wake a sleeping person, b) makes a radar reconnaissance trip, c) uses a sonar system of received sound, d) carefully observes the prey sighted. (The answer is "c").

--The chicken was domesticated: a) 50 years ago, b) less than 5,000 years ago, c) more than 500 years ago, d) around 5,000 years ago, e) none of the above. (The answer is "d").

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Baby in the Bush; Better Than One in the Hand

This is a bushbaby, or galago, given to me by a Belgian businessman. I kept her at my apartment for a time, in a large cage on the porch. She had a peculiar sweet odor that may have come from the fact that she marked the branches with a brownish secretion from her genitals. Books describe the odor of the urine as "maple syrup."

I didn't mind the bushbaby's smell; what led her to be banished from my abode was her over-exuberant playful habits, which occurred at night, because bushbabies are nocturnal. When I would let her out to exercise in the evening, she would jump on my head, and then land on my hands, and nip my fingers. She was never aggressive and the bites would stop short of breaking the skin, but they were painful pinches.

The bushbaby quickly wore out her welcome; she never tired of biting my hands, and her cage was soon relegated to the animal facility. Eventually, I found a good home for her with an expatriate who had a male of the same species.

The Senegalese Bushbaby is a wide-ranging African animal that lives is social groups of up to twenty individuals. They build nests in branches, but also seek shelter in the hollows of trees, such as the baobab. They consume a wide variety of foods such as insects, fruits, nectar, flowers, gums, shoots, seeds, nestlings, and lizards.

Bushbabies use their long and flexible ears that actually fold down (pleated ear seen in photo), to orient themselves to the sound of insects. Africans will sometimes fashion a grass string harness to imprison a beetle, grasshopper, or cicada to flutter, buzz, and vibrate. This will attract bushbabies who will approach to investigate the possibility of a meal.

Photo by D. Messinger

Monday, October 13, 2008

It's a Fungal Jungle

Tied to the opening of a new exhibit called "Save the Frogs", this poster was produced by the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens:

"The greatest mass extinction since the dinosaurs is happening in our time. With the threat of a shrinking habitat, pollution, climate change, and a fungus called chytrid, frog species from all over the world -- even here in our own backyard -- need our help to survive. In 2008, the "Year of the Frog," the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens opened the Save the Frogs! Amphibian Conservation Center -- a sanctuary for amphibians to be bred and returned to the wild."

For more information about the amphibian crisis,visit

Sunday, October 12, 2008

An Award Winning Exhibit

The "Range of the Jaguar" opened at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens in 2004. It won an exhibit award from the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), in part, because, besides the design, the exhibit had a direct link with conservation efforts in the wild.

The top photograph shows the entrance to the exhibit, and the second is a graphic that introduces the work that the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has been doing in the country of Guyana, the former British Guyana, in South America. The first panel talks about the Neotropics and the people who live there, and where there are more species of plants and animals than anywhere else in the world.

The second panel explains that sustainable management is the use of natural resources over and over, generation after generation, without compromising the environment. The final panel introduces the international rainforest conservation, research, and development organization called Iwokrama, which takes a scientific approach to the sustainable use of rainforest. The Jacksonville Zoo is one of many partners, or stakeholders, in Iwokrama.

Photo: D. Messinger

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Pigs Need Water!

As a Peace Corps volunteer, I taught veterinary classes to future vet technicians and ran the farm owned by the school. We had a "porcherie," or pig farm, and when I was placed in charge, the pigs were dying of neglect. The first problem I faced was that the original cement water troughs were cracked and broken. The poor animals suffered greatly because there was no way to give them enough water.

Because students were required to work on the farm as part of their training, I mobilized them to fell trees in the nearby forest, then hack the logs into short pieces. They were drug to the farm, and hollowed out to make crude water troughs. Assuring a supply of water was a basic necessity that seemed rudimentary, but it made a huge difference for the pigs.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Bonobos Lucy and Kaleb Laughing

Lucy, on the left, and Kaleb, young bonobos at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens play and "laugh" together. In Kinshasa, I would tickle young bonobos in the usual tickle spots along the sides, and make laughing sounds. The apes would respond in a human-like fashion, twisting to get away, then coming back for more, with a sort of "ha, ha, ha" chortle. I would swear that they, too, were laughing.

Photo by M. Brickner

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Caring for the Care Takers

In Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic of the Congo), after the civil unrests in 1991 and 1993, I fed the guards who stayed overnight and the animal caretakers who came in to work. Here, Stani is cooking rice over charcoal in a "babula." We are in the yard in front of my apartment, where we grew crops to feed the bonobos. Behind Stani are bananas, papayas, and a variety of sweet potato called matembele that was grown for its leaves.

Photo by D. Messinger

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

School Booklet from China

This is a standard school booklet, cahier, imported into Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Millions were sold in open air markets and they were all similar, with a map of the country on the front and the multiplication table on the back. They had low quality paper and muddy colors, but they were cheap.

Because the students often kept their lessons for years (and those who became teachers actually used their booklets to teach the next generation), Kizito and I printed natural history lesson cahiers, to be given away as prizes, or sold at a competitive price. We did booklets on bonobos, leopards, elephants, and leopards, some with essays on the inside covers. Needless to say, our locally produced, colorful booklets were a hit.

The "Good" with a check mark was a comment on a student's english lesson. English was the favored language studied in high school. Most Zairians spoke two or three languages (a mother tongue, a regional language such as Lingala or Swahili, and French), so learning another was relatively easy.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Catching Snakes

While going to school at Wichita State University, I retreated to the wild for a break from studying. Here I am, at El Dorado Lake, on the outskirts of town, catching reptiles. I have a water snake in hand, and a snake bag tucked into my belt loop for anything interesting that I wanted to keep. I visited creeks and ponds and cruised rural roads at night, looking for (honest!) rattlesnakes that crawled up on the warmed asphalt. Actually, I never found a rattlesnake that way, but the thrill of adventure was enough to keep me looking.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Zoo Hospital on Exhibit

The zoo profession is mysterious to most, because, although the animals are displayed publicly, the nuts and bolts of their management is unknown or misunderstood. (Modern zoos tend to hide the barns, pens, and service areas "off theatre." The idea is to portray animals as though they were in the wild, with no sign of the mechanics of their "keeping.")

To answer this educational need, some zoos showcase their "behind the scenes" by putting animal commissaries, nurseries, breeding setups, and veterinary hospitals on display to the public. The Milwaukee County Zoo has a complete exhibit about zoo medicine, with graphics, a mock up intervention on an exotic cat, and a peek into the zoo hospital's treatment area.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

An Ox in the China Closet

Here, Mayolo and I are laughing about an egg that one of our chickens had laid. Mayolo had been a bonobo keeper, but his loud voice irritated the animals, so, I transferred him to my apartment to housekeep. He was a challenge to keep employed. From Grains of Golden Sand:

"Physically attractive with a bright smile, Mayolo was a 120 pound welterweight with rippling muscles. He was strong but as clumsy as an ox in a china closet. Normally never in the apartment while he cleaned, I startled him once in my tiny kitchen—about the size and shape of a walk-in closet. Mayolo went bananas. He was so discombobulated at the two of us occupying the same finite space that he vibrated like a Mexican jumping bean. He bounced off the walls.

Boom! He hit the rusty stove and reverberated sideways.

“Mayolo! Whoa!”


He whacked the leaning wooden shelves, and a dozen glass pieces rattled ominously. Wham! He knocked down a basin from the counter.

“Please, Mayolo!”


He fell into the refrigerator and it tipped on its moorings. A precious wineglass flew to the floor from on top and smashed into smithereens.

“Calm yourself, Mayolo!”

“Can’t help it, Mademoiselle,” Mayolo stuttered with anguish. “Makes me jumpy! Ugh!…smother in this place!”

The problem was that I happened to be standing in the doorway and was blocking his escape. He barreled past me like a tucked-in quarterback and knocked me sidelong against the doorjamb.

I heard him squeak, “Oh! Oh, so sorry, Mademoiselle!” as he fled to the other room.

I didn’t know if he was claustrophobic or just totally unused to the inside of a swanky “non-hut,” but I suspected that my place was setting Mayolo’s nerve on edge. Over several months, my kitchenware was completely “Mayoloized.”"

Friday, October 3, 2008

Plankendael Bonobo Sketch

I ran across this study in pencil of a bonobo, while going through some old papers. These sketches were of animals from Plankendael, In Belgium, drawn by Marc S. in 1992.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

New Government: New Money

When the rebel Kabila took over Zaire in 1997, everything changed. The famous "three Z's" under Mobutu -- the country, the river, and the money -- hearkened back to an older name: Congo.

The country is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the river is now the Congo River, and the money became the Congolese Franc. The lion, Kabila's totem animal, replaced Mobutu's leopard. A male on one side, and a lioness with cubs is seen beautifully engraved on a 20 Franc bill.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

First Day Issue Bonobo

Ironically, in early 1997, as the rebel army under Kabila was advancing toward Kinshasa, the World Wildlife Fund, in collaboration with the Zairian government, issued a special series of four bonobo postage stamps. Within a few months, the country was no longer Zaire -- and the future of the bonobos was under the thumb of another political system.

In a way, this story serves to illustrate how the future of the bonobo (as well as other endemics such as okapi, the Congo peacock, aquatic genet, and Grauer's gorilla) is tied up with the politics of a single country. Much of the problems for wild animals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- once Zaire -- continue to be related to the ongoing instability of the region.