Monday, July 28, 2008
Save the Wild Apes
There only about 700 wild mountain gorillas left in the world. They live in themountains of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are an extremely endangered species for many reasons. Currently, the most pressing is the illegal charcoal trade in the area. The charcoal people have burned down most of the forest around the National park that the gorillas live in and now they want to exploit the park. They see the gorillas as a "hindrance". In 2007, a vindictive statement by the charcoal traders against the park rangers was made- 4 gorillas were found dead. They were shot but not harvested for there meat, skulls, or hands, as they usually are when murdered by poachers. Poachers also steal baby gorillas to sell to zoos or on the black market to sickos who like to keep gorillas as pets confined in basements or cages. Another problem is the heavy fighting amongst rebel groups in those areas. There are reports of rebels using gorillas as target practice with their AK-47s. It seems like that part of Africa is so war-torn and poor, the life of a gorilla is meaningless to some just struggling to survive.
There is also some amazing video over at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. Fossey was the pioneering researcher that lived with and studied the gorillas from 1967 until 1985 and helped get rid of the "king kong" stereotype that gorillas were savage beasts. She was hacked to death with a machete. The culprit was never caught. Most assume it was poachers that didn't like her work. But one of her own trackers was arrested for the crime, though he hung himself in jail before anything was proven. People think he was working for Rwandas booming gorilla tourism industry that Fossey had accidentally ushered in- but hated and tried to stop.
Saving our closest relatives may be impossible. My co-worker thinks the only way it can happen is if a natural disaster or disease "levels the playing field". On a more positive note, you can donate money directly to the park rangers that are actively protecting them.
Another major problem is the extinction of Orangutans in Indonesia. They now only live in two parts of the world- on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. They are in trouble for similar reasons as above, like kidnapping for pets, but mostly because of the massive palm oil industry. The Indonesian government is systematically cutting down the forests of Borneo to make way for palm trees. Palm oil is used in something like 30% of kitchen products in the typical American household (soap, bread, chips) so the demand is high. Locals regard the last five or ten thousand remaining orangutans as "pests" because they eat the baby palm trees that have been planted. In earlier centuries, locals would not kill them because they felt they were just people hiding out in the trees so they didn't have to work or become a slave. The word Orangutan translates to "people of the forest." They could be extinct within 10 years. More info here.
UPDATE Aug 5th: The July issue of National Geographic had an article about the gorilla killings. Apparently the man that orchestrated the killings is Honore Mashagiro. He works for the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature and he is in charge of protecting the National Park. He is totally corrupt and profits from the charcoal trade. He was trying to frame a man named Paulin Ngobobo who had found him out. Mashagiro is currently awaiting trial.