Year of the Gorilla?

photo by sangamithra iyerBig Gorilla Butts.  They are one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. I remember the boom boom in my heart the moment a silverback walked in front of us.  Rachel and I were in the Virunga National Park in Rwanda.  I held my breath and squeezed her tight.

Two days earlier, we visited a genocide memorial at a church where 5,000 people took refuge only to be slaughtered in 1994.  We walked amongst their remains.  Bones sorted and stacked. Rosaries, combs and shoes strewn about.  Pages of children’s notebooks flapping with the slight breeze.  Rwanda’s population was decimated a decade ago.

Now we were walking among another diminishing population.  Roughly 700 Mountain gorillas lived in the world, spread among the border of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  To be in there presence is humbling.  So powerful, yet so gentile.   Lives so magnificent, but so vulnerable.  (See the Satya article about this trip)

Gorillas have no natural predator, except for  humans, their evoluntionary kin.  We have common ancestors and our two species have shared nine million years of co-existence.  But in the last few decades, we have driven them towards extinction.

In West Africa, it is the logging and illegal bushmeat trade are the key players in exterminating lowland Gorillas and chimpanzees.  Sheri Speede who runs IDA-Africa’s chimpanzee sanctuary in Cameroon, once told me that there aren’t many baby gorillas in sanctuary, because they often don’t survive without their mothers.  Their grief is too strong and they lose the will to live.

While Rwanda and Uganda seem committed to protecting their gorilla habitats, across the border in the DRC, there are no such protections.  In 2007, a family of mountain gorillas were murdered. Last year, rebels part of Gen. Nkunda’s faction took over the national park.  Remnants of Rwanda’s genocide have spilled over into eastern Congo.  It is alleged that Rwanda government is supporting Nkunda.   Resource extraction—wood for charcoal, coltan for celphones—also threaten the Mountain gorillas of the DRC.

There was some promising news in the Republic of Congo this year, when 125,000 western lowland gorillas were discovered.  (Shh, don’t tell anybody.)

In an effort to “to help save our endangered ‘primate cousins’, the gorillas, from extinction,”  the UNEP  just declared 2009, the Year of the Gorilla.

It’s hard to say what exactly this will entail. So far on the website  an ice-skating fundraiser in London, is what is listed in the  “events” for the year.  (Gorillas on Ice!?)

To really address this issue requires a comprehensive and holistic approach to tackling the links between conflict, resource extraction, the arms trade and disease, targeting not only poachers but  the multinationals taking timber and minerals out of these countries.   An ice-skating fundraiser probably won’t cut it.

It is a serious and complex crisis that requires a serious and complex response.  Take a look at their faces.

photo by sangamithra iyer

Don’t we owe them more than just a year?


~ by sangamithra on January 12, 2009.

One Response to “Year of the Gorilla?”

  1. Fantastic post!
    Gorilla’s are amazing animals and you are both so very lucky to have seen them in their natural habitat.

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