Not that 'purely emotional arguments for the loss of life so closely human' are wrong, but there are sound arguments for why 'the loss of biodiversity will inevitably come to be regretted'.

perryb
Aug. 6, 2007 issue; Newsweek Newsweek Magazine
Cry of the Wild
Last week four gorillas were slaughtered in Congo. With hunting on the rise, our most majestic animals are facing a new extinction crisis.
By Sharon Begley

On the lush plains of Congo's Virunga National Park last week, the convoy of porters rounded the final hill and trooped into camp. They gently set down the wooden frame they had carried for miles, and with it the very symbol of the African jungle: a 600-pound silverback mountain gorilla. A leader of a troop often visited by tourists, his arms and legs were lashed to the wood, his head hanging low and spots of blood speckling his fur. The barefoot porters, shirts torn and pants caked with dust from their trek, lay him beside three smaller gorillas, all females, who had also been killed, then silently formed a semicircle around the bodies. As the stench of death wafted across the camp in the waning afternoon light, a park warden stepped forward. "What man would do this?" he thundered. He answered himself: "Not even a beast would do this."
   Park rangers don't know who killed the four mountain gorillas found shot to death in Virunga, but it was the seventh killing of the critically endangered primates in two months. Authorities doubt the killers are poachers, since the gorillas' bodies were left behind and an infant—who could bring thousands of dollars from a collector—was found clinging to its dead mother in one of the earlier murders. The brutality and senselessness of the crime had conservation experts concerned that the most dangerous animal in the world had found yet another excuse to slaughter the creatures with whom we share the planet. "This area must be immediately secured," said Deo Kujirakwinja of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Congo Program, "or we stand to lose an entire population of these endangered animals."


   Back when the Amazon was aflame and the forests of Southeast Asia were being systematically clear-cut, biologists were clear about what posed the greatest threat to the world's wildlife, and it wasn't men with guns. For decades, the chief threat was habitat destruction. Whether it was from impoverished locals burning a forest to raise cattle or a multinational denuding a tree-covered Malaysian hillside, wildlife was dying because species were being driven from their homes. Yes, poachers killed tigers and other trophy animals—as they had since before Theodore Roosevelt—and subsistence hunters took monkeys for bushmeat to put on their tables, but they were not a primary danger.
   That has changed. "Hunting, especially in Central and West Africa, is much more serious than we imagined," says Russell Mittermeier, president of Conservation International. "It's huge," with the result that hunting now constitutes the pre-eminent threat to some species. That threat has been escalating over the past decade largely because the opening of forests to logging and mining means that roads connect once impenetrable places to towns. "It's easier to get to where the wildlife is and then to have access to markets," says conservation biologist Elizabeth Bennett of the Wildlife Conservation Society. Economic forces are also at play. Thanks to globalization, meat, fur, skins and other animal parts "are sold on an increasingly massive scale across the world," she says. Smoked monkey carcasses travel from Ghana to New York and London, while gourmets in Hanoi and Guangzhou feast on turtles and pangolins (scaly anteaters) from Indonesia. There is a thriving market for bushmeat among immigrants in Paris, New York, Montreal, Chicago and other points in the African diaspora, with an estimated 13,000 pounds of bushmeat—much of it primates—arriving every month in seven European and North American cities alone. "Hunting and trade have already resulted in widespread local extinctions in Asia and West Africa," says Bennett. "The world's wild places are falling silent."
   When a company wins a logging or mining concession, it immediately builds roads wide enough for massive trucks where the principal access routes had been dirt paths no wider than a jaguar. "Almost no tropical forests remain across Africa and Asia which are not penetrated by logging or other roads," says Bennett. Hunters and weapons follow, she notes, "and wildlife flows cheaply and rapidly down to distant towns where it is either sold directly or links in to global markets." How quickly can opening a forest ravage the resident wildlife? Three weeks after a logging company opened up one Congo forest, the density of animals fell more than 25 percent; a year after a logging road went into forest areas in Sarawak, Malaysia, in 2001, not a single large mammal remained.
   A big reason why hunting used to pale next to habitat destruction is that as recently as the 1990s animals were killed mostly for subsistence, with locals taking only what they needed to live. Governments and conservation groups helped reduce even that through innovative programs giving locals an economic stake in the preservation of forests and the survival of wildlife. In the mountains of Rwanda, for instance, tourists pay $500 to spend an hour with the majestic mountain gorillas, bolstering the economy of the surrounding region. But recent years have brought a more dangerous kind of hunter, and not only because they use AK-47s and even land mines to hunt.
   The problem now is that hunting, even of supposedly protected animals, is a global, multimillion-dollar business. Eating bushmeat "is now a status symbol," says Thomas Brooks of Conservation International. "It's not a subsistence issue. It's not a poverty issue. It's considered supersexy to eat bushmeat." Exact figures are hard to come by, but what conservation groups know about is sobering. Every year a single province in Laos exports $3.6 million worth of wildlife, including pangolins, cats, bears and primates. In Sumatra, about 51 tigers were killed each year between 1998 and 2002; there are currently an estimated 350 tigers left on the island (down from 1,000 or so in the 1980s) and fewer than 5,000 in the world.
   If a wild population is large enough, it can withstand hunting. But for many species that "if" has not existed for decades. As a result, hunting in Kilum-Ijim, Cameroon, has pushed local elephants, buffalo, bushbuck, chimpanzees, leopards and lions to the brink of extinction. The common hippopotamus, which in 1996 was classified as of "least concern" because its numbers seemed to be healthy, is now "vulnerable": over the past 10 years its numbers have fallen as much as 20 percent, largely because the hippos are illegally hunted for meat and ivory. Pygmy hippos, classified as "vulnerable" in 2000, by last year had become endangered, at risk of going extinct. Logging has allowed bushmeat hunters to reach the West African forests where the hippos live; fewer than 3,000 remain.
   Setting aside parks and other conservation areas is only as good as local enforcement. "Half of the major protected areas in Southeast Asia have lost at least one species of large mammal due to hunting, and most have lost many more," says Bennett. In Thailand's Doi Inthanon and Doi Suthep National Parks, for instance, elephants, tigers and wild cattle have been hunted into oblivion, as has been every primate and hornbill in Sarawak's Kubah National Park. The world-famous Project Tiger site in India's Sariska National Park has no tigers, biologists announced in 2005. Governments cannot afford to pay as many rangers as are needed to patrol huge regions, and corruption is rife. The result is "empty-forest syndrome": majestic landscapes where flora and small fauna thrive, but where larger wildlife has been hunted out.
   Which is not to say the situation is hopeless. With governments and conservationists recognizing the extinction threat posed by logging and mining, they are taking steps to ensure that animals do not come out along with the wood and minerals. In one collaboration, the government of Congo and the WCS work with a Swiss company, Congolaise Industrielle des Bois—which has a logging concession near Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park—to ensure that employees and their families hunt only for their own food needs; the company also makes sure that bushmeat does not get stowed away on logging trucks as illegal hunters try to take their haul to market. Despite the logging, gorillas, chimps, forest elephants and bongos are thriving in the park.
   Anyone who thrills at the sight of man's distant cousins staring silently through the bush can only hope that the executions of Virunga's gorillas is an aberration. At the end of the week, UNESCO announced that it was sending a team to investigate the slaughter.
~~~~~~~~~~~~
With Scott Johnson in Virunga Park and Julie Scelfo in New York

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Aug. 6, 2007 issue; Newsweek Newsweek Magazine
Gorilla Warfare
Even after 10 years of war, rangers are stunned by the mysterious killings of great apes in Africa's oldest park.
By Scott Johnson

The men huddled under billowing green ponchos and shouldered their AK-47s nervously. Summer rains drenched the plains and canopied jungle of Virunga National Park, a vast preserve along the eastern border of the Democratic Republic of Congo that is home to an estimated 60 percent of the world's surviving mountain gorillas. The men allowed the rain to douse their cigarettes. Then, in single file, they began to move into the forest. Through the din of the storm, a shout quickly rose up.
   The rangers found the first corpse less than a hundred yards away, in a grove of vines and crooked thicket. The mammoth gorilla lay on her side, a small pink tongue protruding slightly from her lips. She was pregnant and her breasts were engorged with milk for the baby that now lay dead inside her womb.
   The rangers crowded around and caressed the gorilla's singed fur. They shook their heads and clicked their tongues with disapproval. One grabbed her hand and held it for a long time, his head bowed in grief. This gorilla—whom the rangers knew as intimately as they do all those who live in their sector of the park—was named Mburanumwe. Her killers had set her alight after executing her. Now her eyes were closed, as if in deep concentration. "My God," one ranger said in disgust, "they even burned her." Nearby the rangers found the bodies of two other adult females, all from the same 12-member family. Two infants had been orphaned. A male would be found dead the next day. The massacre, first discovered on July 23, could be the worst slaughter of mountain gorillas in the last quarter century.
   Even the rangers—who live in a country where more than 4 million people may have been killed in factional fighting in the last decade—were shaken. Elections held a year ago were supposed to have quelled the demons that had fueled what many called Africa's "world war"—a vicious battle for power and resources between militias and even armies from neighboring countries. A shaky central government has taken power in Kinshasa and bought off many of the competing factions with positions in the new administration. With foreign forces largely withdrawn, a relative calm has settled in. But in this remote corner of the DRC, where many of the country's wars have traditionally begun, the fighting continues to rage.
   Hutu extremists who retreated to the park after their massacre of Rwandan Tutsis back in 1994 have settled along its edges; three years ago some 8,000 Rwandans crossed the border into Virunga looking for pastoral land, and mowed down more than 3,000 acres of prime gorilla habitat in less than three weeks. Earlier this year Tutsi forces loyal to a renegade Congolese general also moved into the park, which houses not only one of the world's most remarkable collections of biodiversity but gold, coltan, zinc and valuable timber. According to local human-rights workers and renowned paleontologist Richard Leakey, among others, a corrupt mafia of charcoal merchants has recently begun harvesting Virunga's forests to fuel a $30 million-a-year industry. "These are their oil wells," Leakey says of Virunga's trees. If unchecked, the loggers' activities could decimate the gorilla habitat in a few years.
   The mountain gorillas, part of a worldwide population that numbers around 700, have become more-direct targets as well. Seven have been killed, some would say murdered, since January. They have not been killed for their meat or their pelts or their internal organs. In fact, no one is quite sure why they've been killed. In January two of them died amid fighting between the renegade general, Laurent Nkunda, and government forces. But others, like the family found last week, have been shot at close range and in some cases mutilated.
   A Losing Battle? Ranger Paulin Ngobobo has fought against corrupt charcoal merchants; U.N. peacekeepers worry about rebel troops Brent Stirton / Getty Images for Newsweek A Losing Battle? Ranger Paulin Ngobobo has fought against corrupt charcoal merchants; U.N. peacekeepers worry about rebel troops One of the rangers, Paulin Ngobobo, 43, has been intimately involved in trying to stop the charcoal trade from spreading across Virunga. A devout Christian, with a wry sense of humor, Ngobobo is fiercely protective of the gorillas in his sector of the park. Six months ago he was lecturing villagers about the threat the charcoal industry posed to Virunga when men in military uniforms showed up, stripped him of his shirt and flogged him in front of the audience. Last month he posted a blog item in which he accused the charcoal merchants of being complicit in the destruction of the gorillas' habitat. Two days later unknown gunmen killed a female gorilla under his care.
   Ngobobo says he has received death threats and warnings to stop criticizing the charcoal industry. Then came last week's killings, which many in his unit have interpreted as political assassinations—a message from the powerful interests that operate in the area. "There are people who are feeding off this conflict," Ngobobo warns darkly. Last week authorities arrested Ngobobo and accused him of negligence because the recent killings all happened on his watch; his supporters claim that that was part of the assassins' plan all along. Ngobobo denies any wrongdoing.
   Rangers like Ngobobo are certainly not the ones profiting in Virunga. Some 600 of them patrol the vast park, the oldest in Africa. Yet most have not received their government salaries in years. Instead many are now paid by a European Union-funded conservation group called Wildlife Direct, cofounded in January by Leakey. The group solicits funds from donors with the guarantee that 100 percent of the money goes straight to the rangers.
   Those officers are devoted to their imposing charges. They have their favorites, whom they follow closely and write about on a blog that Wildlife Direct has set up. Leakey's partner, Emmanuel de Merode, says that as recently as 2001 "there wasn't a single vehicle in the whole sector; none of the rangers had uniforms or rifles." Since 1994, about 120 rangers have been killed in the line of duty. Even now they are hopelessly outgunned: Nkunda alone has almost 8,000 highly trained men under his command. Last week the United Nations, which has several thousand peacekeepers stationed in the area, declared Nkunda's forces "the single most serious threat" to Congolese stability. "It's almost impossible to be sanguine about the gorillas' future," says Leakey. "They are hugely vulnerable in part because they're living in areas that are hugely unsettled ... The security of this species is not guaranteed."
   The morning after last week's massacre, when the rains had stopped, rangers returned to the forests to search for survivors. That's when they discovered the hulking mass of Senkekwe, a 600-pound silverback shot execution style in a copse of lush vegetation. One massive arm was outstretched, the other held close to his heart, perhaps a sign that he died while thumping his chest. With Senkekwe gone, the unity of the family was immediately cast in doubt.
   As the sun cleared the valley walls and rose into the sky, nearly a hundred villagers from nearby settlements gathered on the slopes below the forest. They carried the powerful bodies out and laid them reverently on the ground. They carefully wrapped the great apes' faces with leaves to keep flies away. Using trees and stalks of cut bamboo, they lashed the dead gorillas to makeshift stretchers. And then, with a mighty surge and a great clattering of voices, they hoisted the gorillas onto their shoulders and marched down the hills, toward the setting sun.


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