GUERILLA WARFARE HITS GORILLA TOURS
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1999:
KAMPALA––An estimated 117 alleged members of
the displaced Hutu tribal militia Interhamwe on March 1 turned
from fighting the Tutsi-tribe-led coalition that has ruled
Rwanda since 1994 to strike a deadly blow at tourism in the
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park of western Uganda.
Four wildlife guards were killed in the March 1 dawn
assault, including community conservation chief warden Paul
Ross Wagaba, who was burned alive, and 32 park visitors
were abducted from tourist camp sites near Lake Katangira.
Five vehicles and trailers used as residences were
burned, along with the Ugandan headquarters of the
International Gorilla Conservation Project.
Chicago University gorilla researcher Elizabeth
Garland, 29, woke to gunfire but escaped physical harm by
slipping into the bush as other visitors fled their tents into open
view and were captured. She watched as the raiders segregated
the visitors by language and nationality, taking those who spoke
English with them.
Seventeen visitors including deputy French ambassador
Anne Peltier were released before the remaining 15 were
marched barefoot into the mountains toward the Congo. Seven
survived the day-long trek, including American asthmatic
Linda Adams, 54, of Alamo, California, who was allowed to
turn back; eight others who couldn’t sustain the pace were
reportedly told they would be taken back, but instead were
killed by axe and machete. One victim was apparently raped.
The six survivors of the march other than Adams
were released late in the day. Nairobi-based American pilot
Mark Ross, 43, led the group back along the trails to the camp
and his airplane, started the plane with a fish knife in lieu of his
lost key, and flew them all to Kampala.
Among the six, International Gorilla Conservation
project field researcher Mitchell Kiever, 24, of Three Rivers,
Alberta, begged Ugandan troops pursuing the kidnappers to
find and return his German shepherd mix Peppy, who was lost
somewhere near Kiever’s former encampment.
The dead included British wildlife researcher Mark
Lindgren, 24, pilot Steven Roberts, 27, tourist Martin Friend,
24, and Acacia Expeditions guide Joanne Cotton, 28;
American tourists Rob Haubner, 48, and Susan Miller, 42,
both of Intel Corporation, who were in Uganda to re-enact their
1995 honeymoon; and two New Zealand tourists, Michelle
Strathern, 26, and Rhonda Avis, 27, whose husband Mark
Avis was released with Ross, Kiever, and three others.
Renowned as the only currently accessible place to
see wild gorillas, the Bwindi Impentrable Park lies near the
junction of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Congo. Home of an
estimated 335 gorillas, 120 other mammal species, 346 bird
species, 200 butterfly species, and 164 species of trees,
Bwindi was overrun by warfare in 1990 and 1994. Four tourists
and seven Congolese guides were kidnapped in the area by
Hutu rebels as recently as August 1998. A Canadian and the
Congolese were later released; two Swedes and a New
Zealander remain missing.
Seven days before the Lake Katangira raid, a Hutu
band killed seven people in an attack on a vehicular convoy
traveling between the Congolese towns of Goma and Rutshiru,
near the Uganda border, and only 10 hours earlier a Hutu
invader was killed after breaking into a home about 12 miles
from Lake Katangira, at Kyabuyorwa village, but word of the
incidents apparently hadn’t spread.
FORESTS UNDER FIRE
There was also homegrown trouble near Bwindi, as
well as in the Katugo forest near Nakasongola in central
Uganda. Villagers discouraged by the slow pace of land redistribution
allegedly set at least five forest fires during early
February, then refused to help put them out without a firm
promise of a land reward. Forestry department workers who
tried to fight the fires almost alone, without equipment, reportedly
hadn’t been paid in two years.
The Ugandan army tried to discourage visits to
Bwindi, according to reporters for The Nation, in Nairobi,
Kenya, but wildlife officials continued to sell gorilla-watching
passes abroad. Tourism brings in about 70% of Uganda
wildlife department revenue, about 20% of which supports
schools and health clinics. Of the tourism revenue, gorillawatching
fetches about 75%.
Ross and Peltier each said the raiders told them their
intent was to destroy tourism, destabilize the Ugandan economy
and government, and send a message of defiance to the
U.S. and Britain, which support the Rwandan government’s
attempt to prosecute Hutu leaders for instigating the massacre
of an estimated 800,000 Tutsi in May 1994.
About two million Hutu fled or were driven by the
Interhamwe into the Congo and Uganda, after Tutsi forces
regained control of Rwanda. The Rwandan government
brought many of them back in 1996. Thousands more died
from illness and deprivation during their exile, or were killed
in ongoing Congolese civil strife. About 20,000 to 25,000 Hutu
still roam the Bwindi region.
Four Interhamwe raiders were wounded in attacking
the Lake Katangira camps. At least 25 more were reportedly
killed in firefights as Ugandan and Congolese troops pursued
them. But on March 5, the Kampala newspaper New Visions
reported, an Interhamwe band “was said to have infiltrated the
Semuliki National Park,” near Lake Katangira, killing five residents
of the Ntroro camp for displaced persons.
The violence may not lastingly harm tourism.
Incoming traffic at Entebbe International Airport in Kampala
reportedly lagged for only a few days before the March 9
arrival of a Norwegian Forest Society party of 22––who
changed their choice of Ugandan national parks to visit, but not
their plans for jungle hiking.
Moving quickly to restore visitor confidence,
Uganda tourism minister Moses Ali on March 19 appointed former
South African National Parks Board chief Robbie
Robinson to head the Uganda Wildlife Authority. Robinson
retired from his South African post at the end of 1996.
Robinson inherited conflict on the far side of Uganda
as well as around Bwindi, associated with the February 24-25
eviction of about 250 families of alleged squatters from seven
villages in Mt. Elgon National Park, near the Kenya border.
Eight children and 10 adults were reportedly missing after
police and soldiers directed by warden Angelo Ofenzu torched
about 400 huts, two schools, and two churches. Ofenzu said
many of the alleged squatters carried Kenyan identity cards.
On the Kenyan side of the border, Ngong chief
forester James Njoroge reportedly blamed a series of February
fires on local residents retaliating because forest guards kept
them from gathering wood on protected land.
Kipkoech Tanui of The Nation noted that the fires
came “shortly after a lull in the war by politicans and environmentalists
to thwart privateers’ attempts to acquire portions of
the prime lands on which the forests sit.”
The Kenyan government, headed since 1978 by
Daniel arap Moi, recently authorized 21 companies reportedly
associated with one Rashid Sajjad, a prominent member of the
Kenyan Parliament, to log the Karura old growth forest north
of Nairobi and build housing on the property.
Students from the University of Nairobi and Jomo
Kenyatta University mobilized behind ecologist Wagare
Maathai on January 8 to replant the forest, but were beaten
back by 300 whip-wielding police officers. A second attempt
on February 26 exploded into three days of rioting. Students
and hangers-on reportedly stoned police, robbed passing cars,
and looted shops, while the police countered with tear gas,
rubber bullets, and finally live ammunition. Thirty civilians
and three police officers were reportedly injured. One person
was killed. Nairobi media cited many instances of alleged
police brutality. Members of Parliament James Orengo, Njehu
Gatabaki, and David Mwenje were charged
with inciting a riot.
Maathai led less violent protests in
late March, after the Kenya Wildlife Service
released aerial photos showing serious damage
to Mount Kenya from illegal logging, cultivation,
and charcoal burning.
The KWS also faces illegal hippo
hunting at Lake Turkana by the 37-member El
Molo tribe, who claim an aboriginal right to
kill hippos; fish poachers on Lake Victoria,
whose catches made by use of pesticides have
allegedly killed scores of unknowing Kenyans;
coral reef destruction off the Malindi coast by
an Italian firm that sells aquarium ornaments;
and drought-driven efforts to reroute water
from Rift Valley flamingo habitat.
Other African ecotourism destinations
are having similar trouble.
Tarangire National Park in Tanzania
no longer has zebras and wildebeests, and is
consequently losing lions and leopards, chief
warden Edward Lenganasa told media recently,
because agricultural fence-building and
trophy hunting in the nearby Lolkisale
Controlled Game Area have cut migration
routes and reduced breeding populations.
KwaZulu-Natal province, in South
Africa, is scene of a running dispute between
the KZ-N Nature Conservation Service and the
Nqobokazi community, who formerly used
part of the Mkuzi Game Reserve for cattle
grazing. Now fenced out, 500 Nqobokazi
marched in protest on January 26, monitored
by police and the Mtubatuba 121st Battalion.
Poaching and related shoot-outs with
rangers are an ongoing problem in KZ-N.
There are ominous signs tourists too may
become targets. Three tourist vehicles were
taken at gunpoint by alleged Mozambiquans
on just one day at the Maputuland Coastal
Forest Reserve in November 1998. Then,
after three months of relative quiet, carjackers
following the same modus operandi in midFebruary
shot and wounded John and Bridget
Sumner, of Sandton, South Africa.
Northern Transvaal province, South
Africa, hopes to avoid unrest by the landless––and
to build faith in the legal system
––by returning title to nearly 100 square miles
of Kruger National Park to 2,500 families
descended from the Maluleke people who
were evicted from the land in 1969.
But that alone won’t settle Maluleke
claims. The Mhinga Traditional Authority in
January announced plans to sue or seek legislation
to reacquire portions of Kruger that were
taken from the Maluleke and Vanwanati clans
of the Mhinga tribe in 1905-1906.
Vaalbos National Park, in the
Northern Cape province of South Africa, was
listed for decertification on July 24, 1998,
just 12 years after it was created by an act of
the South African parliament as a breeding
habitat for endangered black rhinos. South
African minister for agriculture, environmental
affairs, and land reform Thabo Makweya
said the first priority for use of Vaalbos will
now go to “beginner” level diamond miners.
The African conflicts over wildlife
habitat encroachment are echoed in Thailand.
On January 22, Thai police confiscated food
deliveries to an estimated 1,000 squatters who
had occupied the Dong Lan forest reserve
since June 1998. The squatters represented
about half of the 1,200 families who were
moved in 1981 to make way for the Sri
Nakharin hydroelectric dam.
Promised new land, the families
instead joined as many as three million others
on a waiting list begun with passage of a land
reform act in 1975. Only about 800,000 of the
families supposedly eligible to receive land
under the 1975 act have received any.
“Some 100 villagers armed with
knives, sticks and stones joined the scene
inside the forest reserve,” the Bangkok Post
reported, “and pressed the authorities to
release their peers and return the food.”
At least one shot was reportedly
fired, apparently as a warning, but cooler
heads prevailed. In early February the Thai
forestry department demonstrated even-handedness
by suing three presumably wealthy
villa developers for encroachment on national
parkland within the Sri Nakharin dam area.
Then a negotating team won a pledge of withdrawal
from the Dong Lan squatters.
But that left an estimated 12 million
squatters still on other Thai nature reserves.
The future of Thai megafauna may depend
upon whether the squatters’ demands can be
satisfied without further eroding the already
severely diminished ranges of rhinos, elephants,
tigers, sun bears, and orangutans,
among other highly endangered native species
with large territorial needs.
Most of the problems afflicting
African and Asian wildlife have U.S. analogs.
The violent crime rate per visitor day
at many U.S. ecotourist destinations, for
instance, remains higher than in most cities.
A reminder of the risks came in late March,
when the murdered remains of Carole
Carrington Sund, 42, her daughter Julie, 15,
and their Argentinian guest, Silvinia Pelosso,
16, were found after a month-long search
north of Yosemite National Park, where the
three were last seen on February 15.
Encroachment on U.S. reserves not
only occurs but is institutionalized through the
leasing of timber, grazing, and mineral
rights, typically at a fraction of market value.
Most nations with wildlife habitat
potentially useful for other purposes seem to
be fighting a protracted losing battle against
encroachment. In developing nations, however,
encroachment comes mainly from disenfranchised
refugees and squatters.
Encroachers in the developed world by contrast
tend to be rich and influential.
From that perspective, scandals currently
engulfing the Mpumalanga Parks Board
in South Africa may represent increasing stability,
since they involve wheeling and dealing
instead of shooting, and since the alleged
culprits are high-ranking officials who are
apparently now being brought to justice.
At issue are allegations that MPB
officials illegally bought luxury hotels for
office use; looted some of the hotels and then
torched them to conceal the theft; improperly
assigned staff to landscape Mpumalanga premier
Mathews Phosa’s garden; and allegedly
set up bogus concessionaires to channel state
funds to the African National Congress.
The MPB in 1998 came under political
and media scrutiny for allegedly aiding and
abetting canned hunts, including one which in
1996 allegedly lured a nursing lioness out of
Kruger National Park to be shot.
Meanwhile in Australia, Janine
MacDonald of the Melbourne Age on February
17 reported that, “Leaked highly protected
documents reveal the [Australian] government
has embarked on a $1 million lobbying campaign
to pressure key nations on the United
Nations World Heritage Committee to back
Australia’s right to mine at Jabiluka, on the
edge of Kakadu National Park.”
Elaborated Margo Kingston of the
Sydney Morning Herald, “The Australian government
will offer its vote in upcoming international
appointments and use other back door
pressure points to induce the World Heritage
Committee not to list Kakadu National Park as
a World Heritage site in danger.”
In Europe, the World Wildlife Fund
warned on March 4, encroachment has
already almost killed hopes of saving the most
endangered wild megafauna. The 15 European
Union member nations agreed in 1992 to form
an extensive system of nature reserves, but
according to WWF European policy director
Tony Long, 13 of the 15 are now four years
behind schedule in designating their reserves,
and some areas which were considered critical
habitat have now been developed.
But whatever else is going on in
Asian, American, and western European
wildlife reserves, the absence of war and the
presence of stable government at least provide
the opportunity to strengthen and expand the
protections already in place, if public interest
and political will can be mobilized.
In Africa, even nations like Kenya
and South Africa which are officially at peace
and enjoy relatively free, stable political systems
still have significant internal strife, and
are bordered by volatile neighbors.
Until the fighting stops, there is no
chance that either poaching or encroachment
will stop, or that wildlife reserves in noman’s-land
can be kept fully safe for either
visitors or residents, human or nonhuman.