Africa: Longtime Operator Returns to Central African Republic Area, Plus Update from Alain Lefol

At the SCI convention in early Feb., we spoke with Jacques Lemaux of Safari Bongo (011-39-055-842-0670; www.safari-bongo.com), who told us that he will be returning to his 7,000 sq. km block in the Rafaï area in southeastern Central African Republic. Readers will recall that Lemaux left the area in 2016 after an incident in which he and his client (a Hunting Report subscriber) came under attack after bumping into an encampment of Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels in the north of the block (see Article 3836).

During SCI, Lemaux received a communication from wildlife authorities in Bangui confirming that he would be able to resume hunting operations in Rafaï this season.

Lemaux tells us that he is confident that the problems with LRA soldiers in the Chinko basin are over. “There was a group of LRA that was using the northern part of the block as a route to Sudan, but they are no longer present. The only remaining issue is with some groups of nomadic herders from the east with cattle, but we have been dealing with the situation through diplomacy.

“The UN now has a detachment on the Ouara River on the eastern border of my area. This has secured the region.” Lemaux tells us that he has been in communication with his staff and a priest in Rafaï who also hunts in the area, who say that all is quiet at present. “There are still issues in CAR, but the major problems are where the people live, and people don’t live in remote forest.”

Lemaux says that he will do three bongo hunts this season and plans to take at least six hunters in 2019. “Before I propose a safari with a hunter, I am going into the area well in advance myself to check the whole area together with my staff. The staff will then remain on the ground to prepare the roads and the camp and scout the area. I will return before the hunter arrives and only will give the OK for the hunt when I’m totally confident all is secure. That is my responsibility, and that is my job.”

He adds that Bangui has a continued strong military presence, including MINUSCA (UN) troops, and is stable. Rafaï is accessed by charter flight from Bangui.

Although we reported that Lemaux had departed CAR in 2016, Safari Bongo did in fact operate hunts there in 2017, after the government asked him to explore the potential for hunting the Yobé area in the southwest, near Bayanga.

“They wanted to know if a bigger hunting operation could take place there. I did two bongo hunts, both successful, but judged that the area wasn’t ideal. The bongo are small and there are few buffalo. Also, WWF is in the Dzanga-Sangha National Park there. They took issue with the government allowing a safari operation.

Elise Duckworth of Duckworth Safaris International (011-31-486-41-40-50; international33@kpnplanet.nl) plans to continue booking safaris for Lemaux. She has been in regular communication with Lemaux over plans. “I sincerely hope Rafaï will remain peaceful enough to allow hunts in 2018 and 2019. It is a fantastic area for bongo and yellow-backed duiker.”

We also spoke to Alain Lefol of Alain Lefol Safaris (011-33-13-473-9405; alain.lefol@bgan.fr). As readers know, he is the only operator who has remained in his area without interruption since the civil war began in late 2012. He hunts an extensive block along the Vovodo River bordering the Chinko Project areas in the southeast. Lefol is known for having a large team of well-equipped, well-trained personnel who maintain security and conduct antipoaching operations in his area. He has continued a successful campaign against encroachment by cattle.

Lefol says that factional struggles continue in the country, but like Lemaux, he says that this is not an issue in the unpopulated bush. He also maintains that Bangui is safe for hunters coming in and out on charter flights.

Lefol’s area has some transitional habitat and holds both forest and savanna species, with savanna game hunted during the dry season. He has already booked a number of hunts for the upcoming season.

Lefol tells us that he coordinates his programs with African Parks, adding that the group is doing good work in the Chinko Project block (formerly hunted by Erik Mararv). They have 400 employees, including a large number of French-trained rangers, and use a helicopter and ultralight aircraft to patrol the region.

The US State Department continues to maintain a level 4 (do not travel) advisory on CAR and does not recommend any nonessential travel to Bangui. We received a security update from our sister company, Ripcord Travel Protection. Recent activity includes large groups of displaced people fleeing fighting in northwestern CAR. At present, the government is said to have little or no authority outside the capital. Despite a UN arms embargo, President Touadéra’s government recently requested and received a weapons shipment from Russia.

As a reminder, all Hunting Report subscribers may contact Ripcord for free, updated security information on specific destinations. Just call Ripcord operations at 415-481-0600. Hunters generally have a much higher tolerance for risk than other travelers, and ultimately individuals will decide what level of risk is acceptable on a hunt.