These past few days since my last blog have been an extraordinary journey, not just geographically but between the extremes of human nature – great joy and inspiration contrasting with harrowing stories of our species’ ability to inflict great suffering. Email access has been intermittent and time short, but let me bring you up to date day by day:
15th – Lake Kivu is a beautiful lake, dotted with islands and dug-out canoes. Crossing it on the deck of a high-speed ferry is a delightful experience on a fine day. Inside, the passenger cabin has rows of comfortable seats on either side of a central aisle and a wide-screen TV which usually shows videos. Unfortunately the DVD player had malfunctioned so we had to make our own entertainment (reviewing rushes with the Australian Network 7 crew). This was a particular disappointment to me because the videos most often shown nowadays are documentaries provided by the Great Apes Film Initiative (http://www.gafi4apes.org) in association with the Gorilla Organization (GO).
GAFI aims to rectify the iniquitous fact that films made about wildlife by TV companies in UK, Europe, America and Japan are unaffordable to most TV stations in the developing world where so many of those documentaries are made. Thus, the average man, woman or child in the street in UK or USA knows more about gorillas than their counterparts in Africa. GAFI has begun to rectify that by negotiating broadcast rights for films about great apes on TV stations in great ape range states. And with the help of partner NGOs, also organises public screenings and provides a library of such films to education centres.
The screenings on the Lake Kivu ferries have been a great success, educating all those able to afford the $50 fare (politicians, aid workers, businessmen and -women) about the importance of conserving Congo’s forest eco-systems. As the steward served drinks and sandwiches, I asked if he had the GAFI films and he immediately opened the cupboard under the screen to show me the BBC’s award-winning three-part series on the Congo basin. Shame the DVD player was broken today…
As we pulled up to the Goma jetty, I was met by Tuver Wundi, a journalist who works with GO; we did a quick YoG interview with Captain Amisi about the GAFI films (sorry, video uploading not yet sorted, so plan B is to send DVDs to colleagues at the Convention on Migratory Species – thank you, Gentle Reader, for your patience. If that fails, I guess I’ll try tying them to the leg of a pigeon!!). Tuver bounced me to the border on the back of his trail bike, negotiating volcanic rocks and the famous lava flow through the middle of the town, to meet Jillian Miller, GO CEO. She was waiting in line at the DRC border-post, crossing into Rwanda, after showing a BBC World team a GO project that had been nominated for an award (see http://www.gorillas.org/worldchallenge09 ).
Before I crossed, however, I wanted to visit the GO Resource Centre and interview some Goma conservationists about the Year of the Gorilla. I rang Pierre Peron, a former Ape Alliance volunteer now working for ICCN, the Congolese Wildlife Dept, and received some shocking news. The previous day, a patrol of Virunga Park rangers had come across some hippo poachers near Lake Edward. The poachers had opened fire and in the ensuing fire-fight, one ranger had been killed. Without doubt, the rangers patrolling DRC parks are among the most courageous protectors of Nature on the planet. Senior staff were understandably busy dealing with the aftermath and unavailable for a YoG interview, so I talked to my old friend Vital Katembo and the GO team instead, before crossing into Rwanda to meet up with the Australians again.