In the English Lake District of the 1920’s it was usual, from atop a high fell or hillside, to view thin plumes of wood smoke drifting languidly up through the trees. The charcoal burners were busy at their trade, slowly and methodically controlling the burn by cutting and laying turves to form a mound, under which the wood smoldered for days or weeks at a time. It was an English Lakeland industry, though always in keeping with the protection and balance of the countryside.
Until recently, there were twelve members of the Rugendo family. Men with rifles came twice. In total they slaughtered six; perhaps, seven – one infant from the family is still missing. A number of other family members were injured, but will recover.
Who committed these atrocities, and how does it pertain to the charcoal burners of the English Lake District?
The slaughter of the Rugendo family members has no relevance to the English charcoal burners, but everything to do with the product they manufactured. The Rugendo family live in Africa, the Virunga National Park; part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are a family of mountain gorillas. Aproximately three hundred and fifty gorillas live in Virunga; it is said, sixty percent of the world population.
Barely a generation ago, we – Homo sapiens – regarded the gorilla as a huge, vicious, beast ready and willing to tear us limb from limb at any opportunity, due, perhaps in part to early Hollywood movies, but most certainly as a result of mid-20th century African explorers. They brought back lurid tales of these creatures based more on imaginings than scientific study.
Thankfully, we now know the truth about the mountain gorilla and the gentleness, intelligence, and tranquility of these animals is well documented, thanks to Jane Goodall and others like her.
One would think the protection of our nearest genetic relative would be assured. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not content with devastating this planet to fuel our greed – a ravagement inevitably leading to our own eventual destruction – we are encroaching on the habitat of other species with bulldozer-like efficiency. The Virunga National Park is supposed to be protected, yet the rangers have not received their government salaries for years. Instead, they are supported by voluntary contributions, but are hopelessly under-funded, under-manned, and out-gunned, constantly in danger from those who would devour Virunga for the purpose of profit.
Charcoal is a $30 million-a-year industry in the DRC, and Virunga is the fuel that fires the fortunes. It’s a simple philosophy. Virunga exists to serve the mountain gorilla. Rid Virunga of the gorillas, and no-one will object when it is burnt to the ground.
Is anyone doing anything to stop it? Are George Bush, Gordon Brown, Sarkozy, Merckel, or any of our “leaders” doing anything to stop it? Are they even aware it is happening?
No, they are doing nothing. In fact, they are neither aware, nor interested. Scientists predict there is a strong possibility many, if not all, ape species may be exterminated within one human generation.
What does that say about us?
The charcoal burners of the English Lake District are long gone, eradicated by a world only concerned with profit margins and factory efficiency. The few who remain are confined to “model farms” or “visitor centers”, to be ogled by tourists. They are no longer free to roam the English hillsides and fells. They are confined. A preserved relic of a bygone age.
The mountain gorilla of Virunga is also about to be eradicated, cast aside by the same demand for profit. Homo sapiens has become primarily a businessman, but unlike good businessmen we gloat over our profits, and deny our losses. Before long, one of those losses will be our closest relative on this planet.
Can the short-term profit really be worth the long-term loss?
Read more on the plight of the mountain gorillas of Virunga:
and at Wildlifedirect.org a charity supporting the work of Virunga’s Rangers. A charity desperately in need of your donations.
Filed under: Imminent extinctions