From Tue Apr 4 06:44:40 1995

Re: Mountain Gorilla Deaths

[NOTE: It was recently reported in the news that several of the rare Mountain gorillas were killed by poachers and an infant taken, presumably to sell to collectors. This is one letter on the subject published on Primate-Talk recently. JL]


I write in response to Michael Wofsey's message about the Bwindi gorilla deaths.


I understand your anger and shock at the news of the Mtn Gorilla deaths. But I believe your anger at the poachers is misplaced. The people who actually killed the gorillas are most probably very poor locals who see an opportunity to "make a fast buck" and even then, they would not get very much money for their pains.

It is the middle men and the end buyer who you should despise. They are the ones making the real money and creating the market. Without them, the poacher(s) would never have bothered to kill the gorillas in the first place. Where will the baby end up (if it survives)? Its the zoos and animal collectors who are ultimately to blame. Think how much money a cute little baby gorilla will bring in to such a person. Infinitely more than the local poacher will see in his lifetime, I'm sure.

Also, you should realise that not everyone in the world shares western (urban) views on the value of animal species. So often in Africa the animals that we westerners so desperately want to conserve at all costs, are viewed as a nuisance by the locals. If you had only a tiny piece of land to feed your whole family and looked out one day to see several huge and frighening gorillas decimating your maize crop, how would you feel? I'd be mighty pissed off. Its the same with baboons, elephants, buffalo, hippos and many more of the African wild game that we are so attracted to. Here in Kenya we read in the paper every week of people being killed, hurt or losing all their livelihood by animals who roam from their protected areas in search of better feed. Usually that feed has been planted and tended by humans who are depending on it for their very survival. There is no social welfare here remember.

School teachers here complain of students who cannot concentrate on their work, because they have been up all night guarding their family plot against elephants. We tend to think of lions as the most dangerous animals around, but its the herbivores who cause the most damage and the most deaths. Buffalo, hippo and elephant kill many more people and destroy more crops than any predators do.

(I am not suggesting here that these gorillas were killed for being crop raiders, I am sure they were killed because someone offered a lot of money for the capture of a live infant, I am just trying to explain the realities of life for people in Uganda and surrounding countries).

How can you expect people in a life and death strugle themselves, to share our views on why Gorillas must be protected. The question they ask here is, "if westerners love wildlife so much, then what happened to all of their own?"

I don't wish to suggest that the people in these areas have no respect for their indigenous wildlife, that's not true - how would the wildlife have survived this long? The Maasai in Kenya and Uganda have lived alongside "God's cattle" as they call the wildlife for centuries. But as human populations grow and the uncultivated areas diminish the conflict between humans and wildlife will continue to grow. Even here in Kenya which is more advanced than most other African countries in terms of wildlife management, the government has not yet managed to introduce suitable compensation schemes for people affected by wildlife damage.

Wildlife conservation programmes these days try to concentrate on involving local people in their programmes so that their needs are met also. For without the locals on side, we will never be able to conserve the species and habitats we wish to.

There is a $4.8 million conservation project going on in Bwindi at the moment, involving the gorillas, tourism, and the local people. I haven't heard too much about how its going, but someone I know from the World Bank (one of the funding agencies) is visiting soon, perhaps I will be able to give you an update when she returns.

We need people passionately involved in conservation, but we also need people who can see both sides of the problem.

Melanie Virtue

United Nations Environment Programme