Dateline July 2008—The National Geographic cover story begins in much the same manner as “news reports” that blanketed the mainstream press worldwide in 2007. It is almost a quarter of a century since Dian Fossey was murdered and little has changed.
The sensationalist stories “sell” the “news.”
“Killers” lurked on the side of the Mikeno Volcano in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, ready to “hunt down” the twelve-member “Rugendo family.” In an excess of anthropomorphism, National Geographic describes the patriarch of a gorilla group as “accepting the proximity” of intrusions as “irritating but unavoidable.” In a descriptive denouement worthy of a Greek tragedy, the gorillas are shot with blasts “through the chest” and with gunshots to the head— “execution style” and in “cold blood.” Seven gorillas were killed. There is no doubt that this was an environmental disaster, considering that the remaining population of mountain gorillas numbers little more than 700 individuals. These are the same gorillas that Dian Fossey fought and died for, with little support and much opposition from the National Geographic Society in the end.
Is this emotional, anthropomorphic slant unusual from a publication such as National Geographic, whose chartered mission is to “increase the diffusion of geographic knowledge?” Is diffusion of knowledge occurring on the pages of National Geographic, especially when it comes to the geo-political conflicts in the Great Lakes Region of Central Africa? If readers take the time to apply tenets of critical thinking to a deconstruction of the cover story “Who Murdered the Mountain Gorillas,” has education been enhanced? Has the truth been exposed? Or, has National Geographic once again used a story about the senseless killing of animals to deflect attention away from what is actually happening in central Africa? Has National Geographic used this story to promote the erroneous and colonialist concept that Africa is incapable of managing its own affairs? Have the rules and ethics of accurate reporting been applied in this story? Have mass media interests formed a cabal with multi-national interests which are cloaked in the mantle of “conservation,” while the Congolese people are being forced out of ancient tribal lands and along with them refugees of geo-political conflicts?
Conservationists Want them Gone Â© G. Nienaber
Imagine you are a woman who has been gang-raped by militia, and portions of your remaining genitals hang between your thighs while you are hiding in the bush with your children, hoping and praying that you will all die without great suffering. Do you think it matters what militias or country is responsible for your agony and suffering? Does it matter if you are Hutu or Tutsi or Mai Mai?
Or, has National Geographic Magazine become the Playboy Magazine of the environmental movement? Do readers merely “look at the photos” without applying tenets of critical thinking, meanwhile absorbing the emotional wallop of manipulative photography—photography that cannot be considered photojournalism. The photography that appears in the July 2008 issue of National Geographic Magazine instead conveys a covert political message that animals are more important than people. It is colonialist, it is racist, and it supports multi-national and strategic interests. It has nothing to do with the unfortunate mountain gorillas, which are being used as pawns in this struggle, just as they were by multi-national interests in the days of Dian Fossey. Little has changed in this regard.
In Gorillas in the Mists, Dian Fossey wrote that she was terrified that every time a gorilla killing was publicized people would climb with evangelical zeal upon a “save the gorilla bandwagon,” without taking time to learn about the complicated political, humanitarian and geographical conflicts which exited on the border of Rwanda and Congo. To put it directly and unvarnished in today’s terms, Rwanda needs the vast resources of Congo. So does the United States.
In the preface to War and Tropical Forests: Conservation in Areas of Armed Conflict, Steven Price writes that war is the “enemy of biodiversity.” One illustrative example offered is Vietnam, where United States forces cleared nearly a million acres of land by spraying enough Agent Orange to defoliate 10 percent of the country. The “deforestation” of Virunga pales in comparison.
Yet National Geographic enthusiastically parrots Wildlife Direct, a paramilitary “conservation” organization, and blames poor charcoal gatherers for the gorilla killings. Charcoal is the only source of heat for water purification and represents a tenuous link to life in the refugee camps. Yes, there is an illegal charcoal trade, but to blame charcoal for the ills of Congo is like blaming moon shiners for the social ills of Appalachia in the 1930’s.
No reasonable analysis is offered in regard to the estimated 45,000 human deaths that occur every month in DRC, or an International Rescue Committee survey, which found that 5,400,000 people have died in Congo since 1998.
Most analysts agree that this number is probably much higher, given the inexactitude of census techniques in a country the size of Eastern Europe that has very few roads. The proliferation of militia groups described in detail by National Geographic aside, the majority of human deaths arise from “non-violent causes such as malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia and malnutrition—easily preventable and treatable conditions when people have access to health care and nutritious food,” according the IRC Report. 45,000 human deaths a month and not one of those individuals’ deaths merit the same scrutiny as the demise of the gorillas. It is not the military that is killing the majority of civilians in DRC. It is misinformation nurtured and conveyed by interests behind mainstream media publications.
FACT: Fox Networks Owns Two Thirds of the National Geographic Channel.
National Geographic begins its report by describing Virunga National Park as a “sanctuary” for wildlife. Is this true? This writer was in Virunga Park in February 2007, along the unpaved road that runs from Goma to the Rumangabo Ranger station and beyond. Readers who have a copy of the article can find this road on the pull-out map that accompanies the gorilla article. In grasslands that should have been teeming with wildlife, only a few antelope species were observed. There was not a birdsong in evidence, not a butterfly in sight, and we were looking.
Virunga Grasslands Devoid of Life Â© G. Nienaber
Virunga Park, in existence since 1925, is a failed experiment in wildlife conservation—make no mistake about it. Even the opportunistic baboon species, which is decimating the plantation forests of South Africa, was nowhere to be seen. Virunga is not the crown jewel of wildlife parks. In fact, UNESCO’s World Heritage Foundation has declared Virunga to be in peril with less than ten years of survival before the ecosystem totally collapses.