An early release of my Sunday meanderings, mainly because tomorrow will be consumed with a long training run and a 12-hour packing frenzy. Yes, that’s correct, yet another move…I think this makes number 9 in two years.
I will refrain from complaining, though. I’m moving to a beautiful space in the perfect neighborhood, literally steps away from one of my favorite people on the planet.
However, some serious magic needs to happen in the next 72 hours for all of this to go down. But it will…it always does.
This is admittedly the not so fun part of my adventure…and also the whole reason I spent 6 months living in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I wrote it in 2013 so some of the statistics might be outdated. There have been improvements that should be celebrated, but these precious creatures are by no means out of danger…all the contrary.
You can donate directly to the sanctuary here to support all the work that goes into protecting Kongo and the rest of these amazing souls.
I suppose this is a good time to explain more about why I am here…the whole ‘saving the chimps’ part I’ve hardly addressed.
There have been volumes written on the conflict here- it’s origins and implications. To spare you the dissertation, here’s the conflict and its environmental impact in an extremely abbreviated nutshell:
In 1994, hundreds of thousands of refugees fled into DRC following the Rwandan civil war and genocide, settling in forest areas throughout the east including in KBNP. This destabilized the already fragile Zairian government, plunging the country into civil war and humanitarian crisis. Refugees, internally displaced people, and numerous armed groups placed enormous pressure on DRC’s forests through uncontrolled hunting, harvesting of wood for fuel, habitat conversion for farmland, timber extraction, and mining.
– Grauer’s Gorillas and Chimpanzees in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo
Although the country is now categorized as ‘post-conflict’, the crisis continues. You can imagine how this has endangered an already endangered primate population. Worse still, DRC is the only country in the world where Grauer’s Gorillas and Bonobos exist.
Although exact numbers can’t be confirmed due to the conflict, the Grauer Gorilla population has declined by an estimated 50-75% over the last decade. The remaining Bonobo population has had a similar fate. The Eastern Chimpanzee, though more numerous, is still in danger of extinction.
Why is this happening?
The main threats to the primates here (and the majority of places wildlife exist) are poaching; massive forest degradation, logging and mining activities; and infectious diseases spread by the hundreds of thousands of displaced people, refugee populations and militia groups that have infiltrated the protected parks.
However, the main culprit is the illegal bushmeat and pet trade. Tracked down by dogs, the adults of the group are killed for meat to be eaten or sold in markets. The infants, if they survive, are then sold as pets locally and abroad.
It is estimated for every one chimpanzee or bonobo that is captured, 5-10 others are murdered in the process.
Many of the infant chimpanzees die before they arrive at their destination. The death rate for infant gorillas is much higher due to their decreased capacity to cope with stress and illness.
One sanctuary in Congo reported that 80% of rescued infants died in captivity.
IUCN documented that the Congolese authorities and its partners have confiscated 16 Grauer’s gorilla infants from military and civilian society since 2003. This number is extremely low, indicating that hundreds, possibly thousands of baby gorillas died in the process, or were successfully shipped out of the country.
All 55 chimpanzees at our sanctuary alone were rescued from the bushmeat and pet trade. We are only one of three sanctuaries in the country, so do the math…
Why would someone eat a gorilla or chimp?
Because they are hungry.
The average household in DRC has anywhere from 5-8 children. Three in five of the 60 million plus people live on less than $1.25 (£0.80) per day.
For the refugees, militia groups and rural communities living in and around the forests, meat is meat, whether it be an antelope, monkey, or chimpanzee. For the majority of the population, the concept of ‘extinction’ is as foreign as a 401k. They are in survival mode and need food for their families. The reality is, it’s common knowledge how much money an infant chimp or gorilla would bring in…
Who exactly is buying these animals?
As asinine as this is, it’s primarily the ex-pats working in these countries who are the main culprits- the UN operation in DRC, MONUSCO, being one of the main perpetrators- military, wealthy officials or mineral tycoons and larger scale traffickers.
The illegal wildlife trade is no different than the drug trade, and they often go hand in hand. There are various tiers, players and profit margins involved that range from local hunters to large-scale international cartels. The poacher or middleman usually earns substantially less than the criminal at the top, who can earn up to $40,000 for each gorilla.
When you stop and think about how often you have seen a chimp out of its natural environment- in a movie or tv show, at a circus, as a photo opp on the beach, at a zoo or safari park…Michael Jackson’s little friend- all of these animals were hunted, captured, smuggled or traded and shipped off, except for those that were ‘bred in captivity’, of course (I’m sure you know where I stand on that issue).
These people have absolutely no excuse. For them, it’s not a question of survival. The decision to capture or purchase an animal from the wild is a calculated, self-serving decision that will ultimately result in these animals being abused, trapped in a cage or chained to a tree.
The realities of the trade (cited in IUCN source listed above):
In 2006, a drug dealer was arrested in Cameroon with 50 kilo of marijuana, cocaine and a baby chimpanzee wedged between two sacks in the boot of his car. He confessed to regularly trading primates and employing at least five poachers to hunt them.
Since 2007, pending requests from zoos and private owners in Asia instigated the export of over 130 chimpanzees and 10 gorillas from Guinea. This transaction, using false permits, could have only been pulled off by an established, well-coordinated network across Central and West Africa.
In 2010, 69 chimpanzees were exported with valid CITES permits (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), declaring the animals captive-bred…all shipped off to Chinese zoos or safari parks.
There is no captive-breeding facility in Guinea. but interestingly enough, there are several export routes built by Chinese ‘development’ companies. It’s estimated as many as 138 chimpanzees and 10 gorillas have been shipped to China using these routes. Be clear, these are only the ones that were reported…which I assure you is only a fraction.