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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 3/12/09

The Monkey's Pawn: Monkey Misery Outshines Human Misery in Louisiana's Delta

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"Money is being made from the apes. They can't talk for themselves but humans can. That is why humans in Congo are being ignored and have taken the place of animals."~ Rwandan Tutsi on horrific treatment of Congolese non-combatants.

"But in no lab that I have visited have I seen so many chimpanzees exhibit such intense fear. The screaming I heard when chimpanzees were being forced to move toward the dreaded needle in the squeeze cages was, for me, absolutely horrifying." ~Jane Goodall on Apes in Louisiana Research Lab

Ten thousand miles separate these two stories, stories that incredulously demonstrate the manner in which human misery can be tuned-out in favor of animal rights by media reports that pander to what is "popular."

The email from Rwanda summed up the complete disconnect present in a recent New York Times article about the Democratic Republic of Congo. The NYT suggests that all is well since the mountain gorillas seem content.

A parallel story is being played out in a remote region of constantly storm-battered Louisiana, where the fate of monkeys and apes at the New Iberia Research Center has preempted stories of human misery in rural Louisiana's rural backcountry. The scrutiny of the non-human primates' living conditions prompted "horrified" outrage from no less than Jane Goodall--outrage on behalf of the monkeys with no mention of Louisiana's rural poor.

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Ironically, and within few days of the NYT signal of an "all clear" in Congo, animal rights groups in the United States and ABC News focused a laser beam on the story brewing in remote Louisiana regarding the alleged mistreatment of the research animals at the federally funded New Iberia center.

Last week, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack ordered an investigation into allegations by the Humane Society that the New Iberia Research Center in Lafayette, the nation's largest primate research center, routinely mistreats chimpanzees and other primates. Vilsack's order was predicated on the ABC news report of an undercover investigation into the facility.

The media blast about the non-human primates took the steam out of a high-profile meeting Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La) scheduled with federal officials to examine post-hurricane conditions in New Orleans and south Louisiana.

Just as the war for Congo's resources has played out upon the backs of its innocent civilian population, so has the burden of the energy, research, and food needs of the United States been carried on the backs of the rural poor in the resource-rich Louisiana Delta.

The Humane Society is now pushing for a new federal law called the Great Ape Protection Act that would further protect the primates in research labs. Subsequently, the New Iberia Research Lab story has more legs than a millipede; the Congo conflict waxes and wanes with each news cycle; and Louisiana's Senator Landrieu cannot get support for legislation to create a 8/29 commission four years post Katrina, let alone national media coverage for her work in South Louisiana.

The amount of copy that the New York Times and other mainstream media has given to the Congo's mountain gorilla and Goodall's Chimpanzees would never pass the test of balanced reporting when compared to media analysis of the desperate plight of the human population in the Great Lakes region of Africa, not to mention south Louisiana. 1.2 million are displaced in Congolese IDP camps in conditions unfit for barnyard animals, yet The New York Times, which is Rwanda's main cheerleader in this blood-soaked region, has called the "all clear."

If the endangered mountain gorillas are any sign, things may finally be looking up in eastern Congo. In the past several weeks, Congo and its disproportionately mighty neighbor, Rwanda, have teamed up to sweep this area clear of rebels who had been at the center of a vicious proxy battle between the nations.

Tell the 1.2 million in the IDP camps that "things are looking up."

Meanwhile, Louisiana's poor human primates were shut out of the media cycle once again.

Shortly after the NYT painted its rosy picture of DRC, reams of print copy and zillions of internet pixels touted U.S. Agriculture Secretary Vilsack's order for an investigation into the allegations by the Humane Society that monkeys are the victims of researchers' shenanigans.

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Georgianne Nienaber is an investigative environmental and political writer. She lives in rural northern Minnesota and South Florida. Her articles have appeared in The Society of Professional Journalists' Online Quill Magazine, the Huffington (more...)

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