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Saturday, April 14, 2012

As a “newbie” considering the deep and complex problems of conservation in the Congo, I  see myself as trying to drink from a fire hose. What has become
obvious to me however is that the best intentions and the most skilled scientific, academic and administrative approaches to resolution are not likely to succeed unless and until the bush meat trade is drastically reduced. One is inclined to believe that the bloody hand of corruption reaches from the snare setting poacher to the highest jurisdictional levels. One simplifies however by pointing the finger at the obvious local “bad guy” in our midst whom many think lies at the heart of the problem. One needs however to look at the underlying social conditions that promotes and allows the concept to flourish. (Just across the street from the Grand Hotel for example is the smoked and dried head of a grand kudu with glass marbles substituted for eyes. Once a beautiful animal of the deep forest whose quivering nostrils and tall spiraled horns might have graced the cover of National Geographic as it stood in evening "n'govivi", shadow. It lies on the ground amidst plastic garbage beneath a battered old table covered with tourist baubles.)

The global drug trade serves as an example of the complexities faced here in identifying the acupuncture points or reversible parts of this problem. Do we blame the high school student smoking a joint in the parking lot, the street dealer, the big dude in the show-off car in the city,  the grower or trafficker in Nicaragua or the judicial or even executive  functions in either country for failure to stop this scourge that is killing people and animals in the crossfire across the globe? As the French would say, “c’est la guerre”, and war it was that destroyed these two magnificent parks. Where to begin, how do we systematically approach the complexities? this lies at the heart of why we gather, why the EU, Frankfort Zoological Society and other NGO’s are willing to wade into this deep morass. Surely it must be that “Hope is our philosophy”.

 This carving might refer to the subjugation of the indigenous Batua or pygmy people when the Imbonga tradition in the Neolithic wave occurred about l000BC 

The Congolese have been using the resources of the land, minerals and animals since time out of mind. Iron smelting in this region of Africa dates to l000BC

We who are changing the entire earth so quickly would be well served to popularize the idea that conservation can be achieved in spite of ourselves.We cannot allow ourselves or our children to be dragged down by the blood and the drugs, the barren lands or the insatiable greed of the profiteers. We can and must do a better job of communicating a compelling vision and celebrate our successes. My wife reminds me that art and music, dance and song, poetry and philosophy do wonders for nurturing endurance in the battered altruistic heart.  
A Lubumbashi  group playing the
ancient music rhythms of the Congo
 enriched by  the engaging beat of modern

Singing and dancing          
frees the soul from the cruelties of the mind          

(carved by a local 
  "Je dance et je chante     (I dance and sing because
 parce que je vie"                        I am alive)

 I encourage you to read Ecological Intelligence by my friend Dr. Ian McCallum, medical doctor, Jungian, wilderness and Renaissance man, for a deeper look into matters of the soul in the complicated times in which we live

Quoting from an editorial in Conservation Biology Vol. 26 2012, “When people understand and appreciate the value of biodiversity, they will be more likely to think about conservation when they vote, make purchases or decide about uses of land and natural resources”. This brings me back to my first Congo blog where I quoted the chair of the World Bank when he spoke of the need to be focused in part on education. In the end we do not care for what we do not understand.

It is only too obvious to observe that humanity must be tenacious even brave  in its determination to protect and preserve the wild lands that remain. Once they are egregiously disrupted by careless human activity like mountain top removal strip mining, industrial logging of virgin forests or other non sustainable, rapacious  activity, the  repair or restoration  of such places  challenges human capacity to the maximum.

It  pains me very deeply to show you this photo but  it tells the tragic story above in ways that words never can. This pregnant female was shot on a main highway near the gates of Virunga Park in the north of the country but represents what might have been the last elephant of the Kundelungu National Park. The Park whose waters are the very head of the Congo was created especially to protect cheetah, that feline apex of speed and grace.  All of the lions and leopards and other charismatic mega fauna like them have now been extirpated from this once glorious Park, one of the sources of the Pride of all Africa. The loss of this singular iconic individual, about to give birth, provokes one to bitter tears. How long will it take I wonder, under even the most favorable conditions to put back the lions and hippo, kudu, pregnant elephants and all the other species who cohabited with them? 

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