This is the true portrait of the conservationist in Goma, DRC.
National Geographic omitted Muir’s background writings which tell much about the man. One local told us that Muir “likes playing with his tin soldiers.” Only this is no game. It involves starving people who have been oppressed for the last 120 years of colonial rule and home-grown dictators.
Muir invited us to Congo in 2007 after we hand-delivered a donation for gorilla conservation from the International Primate Protection League. Muir refused to fly us over Virunga, even though he had promised to do so, because of a “lack of petrol.” Private, military, and corporate planes were flying in and out of Goma at that time on a regular basis. Fuel was not an issue and we offered to pay for it if money was the issue. A promised visit to the cave dwelling gorillas also did not materialize. Muir was “busy” in meetings in Kinshasa.
Photographic Smoke and Mirrors
There is a telling photo that accompanies the National Geographic report. Pages 56-57 consist of a two-page page spread of a Congolese woman literally begging for mercy, while another woman rests head and arms on the prostrate woman’s back. It is a posture of total and absolute despair. Their “crime” was hauling sacks of charcoal out of the park for less than a buck a day. These women have names. Was any attempt made to identify them? This photo shows total lack of humanity and should be featured on the cover of National Geographic instead of yet another photo of a gorilla. Does the caption describe what is happening in a truthful manner?
The woman is probably barefoot—walking over volcanic rocks and soil. How many people are in her family? How many mouths does she have to feed?
These questions are never asked, or answered. Instead, the caption describes the unfortunate toothless woman as an object—a “mule”—supporting the “evil” charcoal trade. Where is the real evil in this photograph? Is it the Ranger with trigger finger ready on the outside of the trigger guard on the Kalashnikov?
There is another photo of an emaciated Congolese woman with a green flip-flop sandal on her left foot. In this photo the confiscated wood is in the foreground and looks to be a substantial bundle. Travel along the roads in Rwanda and Congo and that is what women do. They carry bundles of wood on their heads to use for cooking and water purification. Take a closer look at the photo for scale and accuracy. The woman’s red sandal from her right foot is tangled in the bundle of wood. It is clear that the bundle is small and the viewer has been tricked by the age-old photographer’s trick of placing objects in the foreground to make them appear larger than they are in reality.
How many “big-game” or bragging fishing photos use the same technique?
Step back now to the training of the “elite Congo rangers” by British mercenary Robert Thorpe under the aegis of Robert Muir. Take a look at the video that is the real story behind this whitewashed tale.
Study the “training” that Muir condoned. The video footage does not lie. The Congo rangers have a snare placed around the neck of a village fisherman who was taking fish illegally for his family. A gun is pointed at his head; he is being psychologically tortured and wets his pants—the urine clearly running between his legs and into the dry African soil of Muir and Thorpe’s torture chamber.
Muir has now moved from three years of training rangers to the charcoal trade, where his celebratory bottle of champagne reveals more than a thousand words.
A Whistleblower’s Paper Trail Torched by de Merode
There is another piece to this story that National Geographic cannot possibly have missed. In late summer 2007, an ICCN official in Goma accidentally copied an email to Emmanuel de Merode. This email was intended for the eyes of investigative journalists, and named higher-ups at ICCN, as well as corrupt conservation interests, as the possible masterminds behind the gorilla killings and rampant corruption. This story was published on the Internet and is still easily accessible through progressive media outlets.
De Merode was obviously incensed and forwarded the email to ICCN authorities in Kinshasa. ICCN authorities have since been implicated in the killings. Why did de Merode immediately try to silence the whistleblower?
Consequently, the whistleblower was locked out of his offices by a directive from Cosma Wilungula Balongelwa, Director General of ICCN. Balongelwa suddenly had a big problem on his hands now that that the Goma official had implicated ICCN, Wildlife Direct, and other conservation interests in the gorilla killings, graft and collusion. Part of the testimony was on stolen videotapes and this created a real public relations problem that had to be cleaned up.