Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Other Casualties of War

Pete Jones has a piece in The Guardian about an attack last June on a village named Epulu in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. The perpetrators were Mai Mai Morgan; they reportedly killed three people and ate the heart of one of them. They also killed all 14 of reserve's captive Okapi. The reason for their ire? Epulu is a base camp for the wildlife rangers assigned to stop the ongoing slaughter of the forest's remaining elephants.   Some 60 percent of Central Africa's elephants have been killed in the past decade alone, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society, to fuel a growing demand for ivory in east Asian countries.

The slaughter of the Okapi was a devastating blow to the reserve's conservationists. Rosemarie Ruf, one of the zoo's co-founders, says it was a brutal end to a lifetime's work. "Twenty-five years of work is gone," she said. "All that effort, all that money. It's my life which has been.... I don't want to say ruined, but here now I'm standing in front of nothing."

Alarmingly, the article suggests that many of the region's inhabitants are sympathetic to the mai mai aims, if not their means. Some Mbuti are upset that the reserve has cut into their traditional domain:
"The forest is where we find what we need to survive" said one pygmy leader. "[The park authorities] have cut our land, there is now a part we cannot access. It has worsened in the last few years, since the RFO got bigger. We feel like the big non-governmental organizations and the rangers have privileged the animals over the people."
Jon Rosen in Roads and Kingdoms reported on this same attack in November, in the epilog to an otherwise upbeat travel report on life among the pre-agrarian Mbuti. (His numbers are a little different: six people and 15 okapi dead.) Rosen manages to avoid the dangers of exoticizing or sentimentalizing the Mbuti lifestyle, while still making it sound like an slacker's idea of heaven, with lots of drum playing, group hunting, and all-afternoon bong tripping:
With the smoking, drumming, and dancing in full swing, my mind drifted to an article by the geographer Jared Diamond that I’d read – along with Fukuyama’s book – in preparation for our trip. In the piece, titled “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race,” Diamond argues that the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture – long considered a fundamental driver of human progress – was actually a colossal blunder.

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