Dream come true in Congo – Interview with zoologist Cintia Garai
She just arrived from Candamo, Peru in March, and already she is saying goodbye to friends and loved ones to spend a year in Africa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “I’m smiling as soon as I step off the plane and smell that sweet, smoky, humid scent,” says the young zoologist who is studying bonobos, a species of great apes in Congo.
Did you have time to get used to everyday life in the two months that passed between your travels?
No. Especially since now I came to stay in Congo for a year. A lot of things need closure, and I didn’t manage to finish everything completely. I should have finished a short film about our journey to Peru, and a nature film, which I’m working on with a colleague, also about Peru. But the hardest part, of course, is saying goodbye to loved ones.
The film Gorillas in the Mist about Dian Fossey inspired you as a child to become a zoologist. Today, you’re not only a researcher but a filmmaker as well. What can you tell about your current project?
John and Terese Hart are an America couple who have been working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for more than 40 years. They would like to establish a national park so the animals living here would be protected from poachers. I would like to help them in this endeavour by making a film about environmentalism for the Congolese government and the local authorities to win their support. I will also do some volunteer work to help educate the local communities about protected species, the aims of a national park, and the alternatives to illegal hunting.
How did you become a filmmaker?
I wanted to do something to help save the animals since poachers are rapidly reducing the population. Research is necessary, but I feel like we are running out of time. I started making films because I think you can evoke empathy in people through them. I approached Attila Dávid Molnár at the Filmjungle.eu Society and they taught me what I know.
This is not the first time you visit Congo. You arrived for the first time in 2007 as part of a research team. What are your memories about your time there?
This is my sixth time being here. On my first visit, I lived in a tent in a remote location, away from the world, for 5 months. I fell in love with this damp, humid weather and the bonobos. When I returned 3 years later I was already filming, and I wanted to combine that with environmentalism. But I didn’t want to get stuck here as a simple activist, so to speak. I went to Japan to complete my doctorate, which took me back to Congo for a couple of times. I feel like I’ve found happiness here what I was missing at home; I always wanted to come back. Of course, when I’m here I’m missing the people at home, but such is life.
What does your daily routine look like? How much time do you spend in the jungle?
I can’t talk about the current project yet since I’ve just arrived, but, as a researcher, my day usually goes like this: the bonobos leave their nest when the run rises, so I have to get up around 3:30-4 am. We observe them for half a day, mark their position on GPS, then we switch shifts with a colleague. If this doesn’t happen, we stay with the bonobos until evening and only return to camp afterwards. So far I’ve lived in tents and clay houses, this time I’ll be put up in different villages. Environmentalism is mainly about communication, so I’ll have less time to spend with the bonobos, which I will miss.
The coming expedition is a significant milestone in your career since you’re participating in a high budget project for an exceptional cause. What are your plans for the future?
I would like to stay in Congo after the year is over, if I can, and combine environmentalism with research. I would like to help the people living in the forest. Overpopulation is a huge issue as well, and I would like to be involved with family planning. I love teamwork and I will keep in touch with people at home and Japan, hopefully, not just personally but professionally as well.
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Source: Gabirella György