Casualties of the Trade: Trying to keep our Chimps around.

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.

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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. This was written in 2013 so some of the statistics might be outdated.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.

Kathe found in a village, 2009

Why DRC?

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?

An undercover investigation has found that up to two gorillas are killed and sold as bushmeat each week in Kouilou, a region of the Republic of Congo.” 

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 that for every one chimpanzee or bonobo that is captured, 5-10 others were 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.

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Kongo when he was rescued

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Kongo now

“Nearly 3,000 chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos and orangutans are illegally killed or stolen from the wild each year”

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.

Between 2005 and 2011, only 27 arrests related to the great ape trade were made in Africa and Asia combined. One-fourth of these arrests were never prosecuted.

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Quote Challenge, day 3 of 3: Feeling… to the point that defies logic.

I’m admittedly sad this is my last day to share the words I love most. I want to thank my dear virtual friend, brandewijnwords again for the inspiration he always finds a way to elicit.

I’m of course breaking the rules, again. I couldn’t decide on one..so I picked five. There are just too many. (more of my favorites, visit @summoningmagic)

My response got a bit intense, but I guess I’m a little intense, so…

“There are no half measures in love, only all or nothing. And if it doesn’t make you tremble and go mad at the very thought of its absence, you should move on.”
~ Beau Taplin//Move on

“I understand now that I’m not a mess but a deeply feeling person in a messy world. I explain that now, when someone asks me why I cry so often, “For the same reason I laugh so often- because I’m paying attention.”     ~ Glennon Doyle 

“She loves deep and fast. With all of herself, or not one bit. She’ll give people all of her light, in turn struggle to understand when they don’t pay that back. She wants you to think she can’t be hurt, but truth is, she gets hurt easier than most. She is fierceness and tenderness, within the same breath. This is her beauty. In her total lack of in betweens.”
~ Carson Patrick Bowie

“I have this terrible urge to be reckless…and I am dreadfully frightened of becoming old and having no memories at all. And I know climbing forbidden fences is wrong, so I’ll stick to falling in love with the wrong people and falling off metaphorical trees. I am just dying to do something worth remembering. I suppose there is no logic, not really…only that if I bleed now, I’ll have a lifetime left to heal.”    ~ Sue Zhao

“It is both a blessing and a curse to feel everything so very deeply.”
David Jones


I’m not sure where to go with these, other than to address the underlying theme- feeling…to a point that defies logic. It is, in fact, a blessing and a curse.

The blessing-when I feel love or joy or see something beautiful, it fills me up completely, every part of me. You can see it my eyes and hear it in my voice. I’ve been told it’s infectious, affecting, even altering the mood of those around me.

But this is exactly why it’s also a curse. When I’m hurt or sad or angry, I wear it like a cloak. It penetrates every part of me…and also affects those around me.

It doesn’t last long. I can usually find ways to escape getting caught up in it. Most of the time, anyway.

I wish this was something I could manage better. But I’ve always been like this. I’ve always been extremely sensitive and seem to hurt easier than most. However, this never stopped me. I risked it every time. I’d feel a connection with someone and immediately love them with everything I had. And I got hurt over and over again.

I get hurt, over and over again.

Except now, it has intensified. I was too reckless. I got hurt to the point that something shattered. And it still feels like there’s a gaping wound in the depths of what is now my foundation. I can’t see it, but I feel it, always.

Now, every time I feel something, good or bad, it grazes that part of me that’s now exposed. It’s become sensitive to the touch, so much so, almost everything brings me to tears.

So it’s not just when something hurts, but also when I see or feel something beautiful…a feeling I never thought I would experience again. But when it’s something painful, it immediately takes me back to that place, that time, when something shattered, and I’m afraid it really will take a lifetime to heal.

But what’s the alternative? I play it safe, detach myself, avoid the risk of getting hurt, even if there’s the chance that it could be everything I want, that it could be magic?

I can’t. I won’t. I’ll keep trying, risking the fall, feeling everything…even it means getting hurt, over and over again.

“There are no half measures in love, only all or nothing. And if it doesn’t make you tremble and go mad at the very thought of its absence, you should move on.”

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Quote Challenge, Day 2 of 3: Coming out of the shadows.

Here is my humble attempt at day two of a challenge offered up by one of my favorite blog gurus, brandewijnwords. The task at hand is to share my favorite quotes for three consecutive days.

This has proven to be more difficult than I anticipated. I have so many quotes swirling around my head right now. But this one is the first that came to mind, so I’m going with it. (You can visit @summoningmagic to see more of my favorites.)

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure…our playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you…and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”
~ Marianne Williamson

This first time I read this, I realized I had done this my entire life: played small. There were several reasons why I chose to do this, the primary one being I desperately craved love and acceptance from those I loved…most who didn’t exactly know how to reciprocate. Regardless, it became very clear to me that being the center of attention was not unacceptable.

I never understood it, really. It was next to impossible for me to believe I had any redeeming qualities…precisely because those were not to be cultivated or celebrated. They were to be stifled.

So, for survival purposes, I stayed in the shadows. And it truly was to survive. For me, being rejected by the ones I love the most was and is my worst possible fate. Being the smartest or prettiest or anything that threatened anyone else was simply not an option.

So I played small.

This meant that I constantly attracted people who demanded the spotlight, and I gladly gave it to them.

I’m not sure when the shift happened, but I know this quote fueled it. I imagine being a trainer/coach also contributed. That was my first experience having someone look to me for guidance or want my permission to shine. It changed me. On a fundamental level, it changed me.

There is nothing more beautiful than to be a part of someone realizing their worth.

So I still gladly offer up the spotlight, but it’s no longer for acceptance. It’s for the joy of seeing someone shine from the inside out.

As for the ones who feel they need to steal the light from others, I think I understand it now. They are simply doing what they think will prevent their biggest fear- their worst possible fate- to be rejected by the ones they love the most.

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Quote challenge, Day 1 of 3: Worth the risk…every time.

I was chosen for this challenge by brandewijnwords FOREVER ago. I am honored that this talented, brilliant soul is interested in what words inspire me. Anyone who follows me on Instagram (@summoningmagic) knows how obsessed I am with quotes. All to say, here is my very belated response. I hope it fulfills my intention to inspire…or just make you feel.

I wrote these a couple of weeks ago, still grappling with the sting of what feels like a perpetual string of heartbreaks.

“There are two things that define us: the love we are willing to give and the risks we are willing to take.”   ~ Brooke Breazeale

“We are the sum total of those who have broken our heart and those who have made it feel whole.”        ~ Brooke Breazeale

I do feel like our greatest heartbreaks in life eventually change us, define us, for better or worse, depending on what we choose to do with the aftermath. It’s so easy to fall prey to bitterness or self-deprecation, letting them build an impenetrable fortress around our hearts until they callous.

I actually wish I could do this at times. I assure you, I’ve tried. I simply can’t. It’s a result of muscle memory, I suppose. When we experience it- the kind of love that makes us feel whole…the kind that changes us- it becomes impossible to settle for a life void of it. That’s been my experience, anyway.

So I take the risk, over and over, incapable of moderating what’s inside, begging to be released…refusing to succumb to the aftermath.

Okay, so the rules (which I’m not exactly following, as shocking as that is):

1. Thank the person that nominated you.- check

2. Write one quote each day for three consecutive days (3 quotes total)- will do my very best!

3. Explain why the quote is meaningful to you. – check

4. Nominate three bloggers each day to participate in the challenge- probably not

I will deviate a bit on #4…the unwavering ‘rule-breaker’ in me, I suppose.

  1. I shall pass this lil’ challenge along to our incurable dreamer (who very well might kill me for this). But swapping quotes is what we do, and she always finds the good ones. (okay, I usually have already found them, but we all will benefit from hearing her insight.) ;o)

The Butterfly Effect…or Just Great F*cking Writers

Edward Lorenz and the Discovery of the Butterfly Effect

“It used to be thought that the events that changed the world were things like big bombs, maniac politicians, huge earthquakes, or vast population movements, but it has now been realized that this is a very old-fashioned view held by people totally out of touch with modern thought. The things that change the world, according to Chaos theory, are the tiny things. A butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazonian jungle, and subsequently a storm ravages half of Europe.”
                                                    — from Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

If you’ve been following ‘the challenge’ initiated last week, you hopefully experienced the magic that happens when people break out of their comfort zones and inspire others to do the same.

If you missed out on some of the action, Tanya, our Incurable Dreamer, summed it up perfectly in “the losing of my poetry virginity

Last week, she [that’s me] wrote a poem [inspired by George Ella Lyon’ original ‘Where I’m From’], and what has transpired since then has been nothing short of extraordinary.

The poem she wrote was inspired by a prompt – Where I’m From.

Her idea was to post it on her blog and challenge someone to write a poem about where they are from, and then hopefully they too would pass it forward. Well, that is what she did, and that is exactly what happened. She challenged Tom who challenged Wulf who challenged Susan who challenged Bojana.

Inspired by Brooke’s words, Brad and  LLY1205 didn’t even wait to be challenged, they both just got right to it and wrote and posted their poems.”

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                                                                                                                          * image from http://thebutterflyeffect.org/

This wasn’t a competition, by any means. But we were all nervous to try something that isn’t exactly our strong suit. Even our celebrated poets expressed some anxiety about presenting their piece. I suppose it’s because we are all following the same model- one that requires us to reveal some of the most intimate parts of our stories- and create something on the heels of the previous person who blew us away…

But no pressure…really.

So, back to the whole butterfly thing. Yes, I will acknowledge that I set this in motion…flapping my wings if you will. But, as Edward Lorenz, creator of the chaos theory postulates: (Cool article discussing the butterfly effect here)

“Subject to the conditions of uniqueness, continuity, and boundedness … a central trajectory, which in a certain sense is free of transient properties, is unstable if it is nonperiodic. A noncentral trajectory … is not uniformly stable if it is nonperiodic, and if it is stable at all, its very stability is one of its transient properties, which tends to die out as time progresses. In view of the impossibility of measuring initial conditions precisely, and thereby distinguishing between a central trajectory and a nearby noncentral trajectory, all nonperiodic trajectories are effectively unstable from the point of view of practical prediction.”

Simply stated, the noncentral trajectory of my challenge was effectively unstable and wouldn’t have unfolded the way it did if you all had let it die out

Okay, enough of that. In short, it was not I who accepted the challenge and wrote something brilliant enough to inspire the next person, who wrote something brilliant enough to inspire the next person…

Maybe I did initiate a breeze. But you all gave it the momentum necessary to make the next person’s words take flight, compelling them to dig deeper and soar to heights that took our writers and readers by storm and left us all spinning. 

So Tanya, thank you for finishing off this whirlwind week of words with such grace, depth and courage. And thanks to the rest of you brave souls who gave us an enchanting glimpse intowhere you are from.

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See where Mirian, from Out an’ About takes us next…

The Lion’s Lair & A Challenge

Okay, a break from soulmates. I received an unexpected, much-needed gift this week and got to spend a couple of hours with my writing teacher, Miss Lisa Jones.

I discovered Lisa when I was in a coffee shop doing research for my upcoming trip to the Congo. I was thinking I should learn how to write so I could share my experience with friends and family, looked up from my computer and there was her flyer posted on the community board. I was sitting next to her within a couple of weeks.

Four years later, now a self-declared writer, I got to revisit the process of trying to follow her prompts and find the courage to read what I came up with (which is never what I want it to be) out loud to a room full of strangers. It’s terrifying and exhilarating and always sends me soaring way outside my comfort zone.

Poetry. I kinda hate it. I don’t know how to do it, and I always feel like I’m imitating Dr. Suess.

So, of course, our first prompt was a poem. I’ll share it with you and what I came up with (which I think sounds like a darker, more jaded version of Dr. Suess).

Okay, so a challenge: I’m gonna pass this off to one of you, and if you are up for it, I would love to see your version, your story.

When you post, or if you prefer to pass, send to on to someone you think might want to experiment with it.

The first victim, if he so chooses, is Tom being Tom. :o)

My version of Lyon’s original:

Where I’m From: The Lion’s Lair

I am from pigtails, teddy bears, things tied in bows
From cow pastures, barbed wire, dry, dusty roads
From Vodka bottles buried
beneath dirty clothes

I’m from TV dinners, pudding pops, sweetened ice tea
From silence, shame, and muffled screams
From two best friends
only I could see

I am from weeping willows, bare feet, Fourth of July
From Bible study, train tracks, the cicadas’ cry
From climbing trees, scraped up knees
chasing fireflies

I’m from dreaming of anyplace but here
From invented fairytales and judgmental stares
From her inevitable return
from the lion’s lair

I am from faded photographs of faces unknown
From a wild heart with a gypsy’s soul
From an untethered spirit
that can never let go

Where I’m From

~ George Ella Lyon
I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush,
the Dutch elm
whose long gone limbs I remember as if they were my own.

I’m from fudge and eyeglasses,
from Imogene and Alafair.
I’m from the know-it-alls
and the pass-it-ons,
from perk up and pipe down.
I’m from He restoreth my soul
with a cottonball lamb
and ten verses I can say myself.

I’m from Artemus and Billie’s Branch,
fried corn and strong coffee.
From the finger my grandfather lost
to the auger
the eye my father shut to keep his sight.

Under my bed was a dress box
spilling old pictures,
a sift of lost faces
to drift beneath my dreams.
I am from those moments–
snapped before I budded–
leaf-fall from the family tree

 

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I hate you because I love you (published in Elephant Journal)

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I hate to inundate you with hate here, but I had no idea this was published in Elephant Journal back in August. I hate you because I love you

Promise, no more hating after this!!! (And god, the picture is a bit dramatic… no say in that department!)