WHAT is wrong with the people in this world, either they are killing each other or their heritage. I was so saddened to read about the 6-year-old lion Zanda who was shot by a big game hunter in Zimbabwe, after his father 13-year-old Cecil was also killed by a game hunter two years ago.
Why I am so livid is because I am a Professor of natural history and wildlife sciences, and travelled the world for 22 years lecturing on the wonderful attributes of all types of wildlife particularly African, and I have worked in Central and East Africa with lions, leopards, cheetahs, elephants and much more.
When I talk about heritage, it is the wildlife and the understanding of animals that has been handed down for millions of years through family to family. What people have got to understand is that all animals bleed, feel pain, reproduce and then bring up their off spring, teaching them how to have respect within a family environment. I’ve seen with my own eyes at the famous panda reserve at Ghandzu how the Chinese have introduced IVF to increase the number of pandas from a level where they were on the brink of extinction with great success, and I am pleased to hear that IVF is going to be used on the only two white female rhino still alive in captivity in Britain, using the sperm from the only white male rhino left in Africa.
So, I would have hoped that my respect for wildlife during my lectures to thousands of people over the 22 years, would have rubbed off on many. If only the big game hunters would have been in some of my audiences, I would have throttled them with my bare hands.
Now let me take you to another country that at one time had a bad reputation in its behaviour to wildlife, this is Rwanda. American Dian Fosse a former child minder travelled to Rwanda after a famous British Professor Louis Leakey had employed her to conduct a census on the number of mountain gorillas still alive and living wild in the Virunga mountains in Rwanda, the numbers she returned were pitifully low, in fact Leakey could not believe the small amount recorded and believed Fosse had failed in her work. Four years after Dian Fosse was murdered on December 26th, 1985, in her cabin at the research centre she called Karisoke that she had established at 10 thousand feet in the saddle of two mountains Karisimbi and Bisoke the chain of mountains that straddle the borders of Rwanda and the Democratic of the Congo, I received a request from Denver Colorado from the US by the Dian Fossey charity asking if I could help them establish the organisation in Great Britain.
At the time of the request I was the Associate Editor of the Mail on Sunday magazine called YOU. I readily agreed and as I was formerly trained as a photo journalist, and my Professorship in natural history and sciences, helping to save the mountain gorillas was to me the ultimate challenge. The next thing I had to do was to go off to Rwanda. climb the Virunga mountains and confront the mighty gorillas and the threats enforced on them. After meeting the governments head of national parks, I was taken to meet the then President. He offered me twelve soldiers from his palace guard to escort me into the mountains owing to the unrest along the border between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo who had been fighting each other for a number of years. I spent the first night at the research centre in the cabin once lived in by Fossey, there were occasional blood spatters on the wall, this was where Fossey had been hacked to death by poachers using machete’s.
The Virunga rain forest really means what it says on the can, torrential rain hammered down most times, this night it drummed excessively on the corrugated roof keeping me awake most of the night, next morning one of the boys employed at the research centre brought me a bowl of hot water heated over an open fire, breakfast was taken in another hut reserved for dinning. With my escort of soldier’s and a tracker, we made our way up towards where the last group of gorillas were sighted the evening before. The climb was steep and the rain from the night before made the already sodden ground like a quagmire, on one occasion one of my wellingtons got sucked off my foot, sometimes the distance of a thousand feet would take one hour. Finally, we reached about 11 thousand feet and some 300 yards away I could hear grunts and chest thumping sounds, I knew from the sounds we were very close now to my first encounter with the great apes.
Suddenly a huge figure of a silverback come crashing through the thick undergrowth, the next second I was pushed to the ground by my tracker, I looked up realising I was in the shadow of a fully grown male silverback that blocked out the light, he poked me with a huge finger to see if I was alive, as my breathing had stopped, next with a balled fist the size of a football he struck me on my back, luckily I was wearing a back pack stuffed with a roll up mattress, all my organs shook inside my body and my brain rattled.
Titus was my assailant, he stepped back about a yard, allowing me to rise to my knees. He must have stood at least 6 feet tall and probably weighed at least 50 stone, he grunted several times, his breath was rank, then he put his huge hand on my head as if he was going to crush it, then I made grunting sounds that I had been taught to do by the tracker. He said the grunting at the right level of sound would hopefully appease any angry gorillas.
Titus backed off even further, satisfied that I was not going to do him or his family any harm, as if I could with an animal that size. He opened his mouth, he had large incisor teeth and his head was enormous with a Mohican style crest from the front that ended at the back, eventually eyeing me up and down he turned his back and shambled off on all fours to his family group. I followed and sat at a reasonable distance watching him and his family feed and play with each other. It had been an extraordinary experience to encounter then being able to watch these almost human animals, our cousins socialise and interact with each other, 4 babies rolled on the ground going head over heels, running up to Titus as he dozed, slapping him on the head, then bounding off in case he chased them.
That night we spent under canvas knowing that our soldiers would protect us? Hopefully.
Then the next day we visited other groups, now using the vocalisation that I had been taught by tracker Vitari making myself smaller than the gorillas to make sure I was not a threat to them, I was able to get very close, on one occasion a baby gorilla come bounding up to me and pulled at my camera strap, trying to relieve me of my camera in a playful way.
My visits became regular about 4 times a year over the next three years, until the terrible civil war broke out between the Tutsis and the Hutus backed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the militia, with almost 1 million people dying in the first 3 months of fighting, the blood lust continued as members of their families were killing each other off, even babies were slaughtered in the streets. The President of Rwanda and all his family were also murdered.
So, I suppose this is where I started this report. Humans killing each other and the wildlife that many of us enjoy wiped of the face of the earth, people like the big game hunters and their supporters believe they are dispensable. Over the years the gorilla population has doubled, many because of the success of the charity funding their protection, but the killers of wildlife must be taught a lesson you are not only killing for the sake of it, but it interferes with the animal’s procreation.
I have pleaded with the country’s Governments in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Tanzania to stop big game hunters operating within in their borders, but back handers by these sordid killers to Government employees continues allowing the killers to have body parts of wildlife as trophies hanging from the walls in their palatial homes.