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Primate Worship? Or Depo-Privations?

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Life-Span for Congolese Women Less than Famous Chimp "Hiasl" in Captivity

"Hiasl" is a captive chimpanzee that will soon see his day in court. An attorney has been hired, Hiasl's slick legal briefs are being groomed, and when Hiasl appears before the court in Vienna the judge will be asked to grant Hiasl the rights of a human being.

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This is one of the lead stories on CNN right now, and the feature highlights how the legal team representing Austrian chimp "Hiasl" will include the famous primatologist Jane Goodall.

Will they make a monkey out of the judge?

Goodall and other animal rights experts will attempt to convince authorities that Hiasl should have human rights. This is a rather stunning turn of events, given that the very people who live in the areas where Hiasl comes from have hardly any human rights at all.

In the jungle of international human rights, the primate protection community and international conservation organizations can hardly be said to care a sniff for the rights of the humans who live in the environments of the great apes themselves.

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Take "Florence Njagali," (name changed) a sixteen year-old girl who was raped by soldiers when she was fourteen. Florence is lucky--she is alive to tell the tale. Indeed, she dreams of the day when CNN reporters and Anderson Cooper and the monkey-show of CNN will descend on her village and bring her face to the international primate protection scene. Why, Florence would even be willing to hop up and down, and scratch her head like her cousins in the forest, if she could only get some attention shined on the exploitation of her land.

Florence lives today in a remote village in the eastern Congo, the Great Lakes Region of Africa, known also as one of the last refuge landscapes for two of humanity's nearest living relatives: the chimpanzees and gorillas of the Great Ape family, a family which includes humans. But CNN better hurry: the average age of life in these parts is about 40 years old for women and for men.

With a lifespan of 60 years in captivity, and a monthly expense account of $6,800 for food and veterinary bills, Hiasl's "human rights" far outstrip the rights of our poor Congolese woman. Florence couldn't imagine what she might do with $6,800 a month-- she has never seen more than $20 in one place in her life. She's got no bank account, and there aren't any banks. She doesn't receive a government check, because there isn't what you'd call a government, and the postal system hasn't worked for years.

Alas, back in Vienna, with café au lait and cappuccinos at their desks, the attorneys representing the already wealthy chimp will argue that Hiasl is a person and therefore has basic human rights. "We mean the right to life, the right to not be tortured, the right to freedom under certain conditions," Eberhart Theuer told the Associated Press. Poor Hiasl needs a guardian who can look out for his rights, activists like Goodall are saying.

Human rights proponents might want to look more closely at the propensity to popularize primate protections over people protections.

Florence Njagali lives in a zone that is championed for conservation protection by a host of big non-government organizations-insiders call these the BINGOS. These are corporatized entities that have, since the days of Dian Fossey and the notebook-toting-hippies in the forest, professionalized the international monkey business.

These BINGOS have a lock on the aid contracts and control massive programs all around Central Africa. They call them BINGOS because they get all the funding, at the expense of grass-roots programs and little mom-and-pop primate protectors who can't compete with privatization of the rainforest and the international groups that hold it hostage.

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We found our little Congolese girl Florence slaving in her fields, tending to goats and maize, carrying a pocket full of bananas, on the lookout for marauding guerillas, while conservation organizations which tout donations to her welfare were nowhere to be seen and, worse still, while millions of USAID dollars dedicated to her welfare remain unaccounted for.

Indeed, this business is slipperier than a banana peel!

During the years of conflict in DRC alone, human rights groups have estimated that tens of thousands of woman and girls have been raped and worse in eastern DRC. Some of the survivors are as young as three years old. Where is the outcry for guardians? Where are their advocates? Have the international human rights defenders and primate protectionados lost sight of the people for the forest?

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

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