Monday 7th September – still in Gabon
I was still holding out some hope for an Equatorial Guinea visa. Omar said he had good contacts with the Ambassador, but all day we were unable to reach Omar to arrange a time to go to the embassy; perhaps he was partied out?
Calling a press conference at short notice can often lead to an empty room. Thanks to the combined efforts of Michael Adande, the Secretary General, and WCS, we managed two TV channels and a reporter from the Gabon Press Agency, plus the information officer from the Ministry. We were rather late in starting, it is true, but we wanted Michael Adande to be there from the beginning. We gave a bit of background to the Year of the Gorilla but some of the journalists were clearly unhappy at being kept waiting.
Once the three speakers were ready, I was introduced and explained why I had originally hoped to hold this press conference at the Baraka Mission in Libreville. It was there, in 1847, that an American missionary named Thomas Savage visited the resident missionary, Rev. Wilson. He collected the type specimen of the gorilla which he co-described with Jeffries Wyman, a Harvard anatomist, in the December 1847 edition of the Boston Journal of Natural History.
I stressed Gabon’s important historic role in this regard, as well as outlining what efforts are being made now to ensure that the home of the first gorilla to be described by science continues as a range state for the species…The Secretary General gave the Government’s strong support and ended with what might become a catch-phrase, “2009 is the International Year of the Gorilla, but in Gabon, every year is the Year of the Gorilla!”
I’d been advised that journalists attending a press event are accustomed to receiving something towards their expenses, and Anne-Marie had picked up some ECOFAC Year of the Gorilla T-shirts, so after the cameras had been packed away we handed each person an envelope with a modest contribution plus a T-shirt.
A few minutes after we thought they had left to file their stories, the one who had been most put out by being kept waiting came back. The journalists’ revolt involved returning all the envelopes and T-shirts and complaining a lot about being given pocket money like children. Clearly this did not bode well for getting our message out to the people of Gabon, so I asked what the normal rate was. The answer was about five times what I’d given them, but after some discussion they settled for 3 times the original amount per channel rather than per person. Honour was satisfied and although I felt like I’d just been mugged, the press conference should be broadcast the next day.
That evening I was contacted by a local NGO named PROGRAM. We agreed to meet over supper and I learned of their project to develop a community-friendly eco-tourism project in Moukalaba Doudou National Park.