Charismatic mammals often get more public attention, but the adulation and interest don’t necessarily lead to more protections for their rights or habitats or quality of life. In fact, sometimes it’s the direct opposite. The Los Angeles Times reports on the guerillas’ gorilla wars in the Congo Basin in central Africa. The region around Virunga National Park has been ravaged by war and displacement, charcoal production and resource extraction, and hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced, some repeatedly. But, the article says, since the murders of several gorillas last year, the animals have been relatively safe; their population is even increasing, although the data on births isn’t always reliable. It seems that both the guerillas and the Congolese government recognize the value of the gorillas, in dollars (tourism) and international goodwill. The gorillas sometimes receive more attention than the dire circumstances of the region’s people. This has, so far, translated to a kind of stalemate in the gorilla wars, with both sides (rebel and government) claiming to have the gorillas’ best interests in mind. How long it lasts is anyone’s guess. Only about 700 mountain gorillas remain, a precipitous population decline from the numbers of only a few decades ago.
Another recent large mammal study finds that elephants in captivity live far shorter and less physically and emotionally healthy lives than wild elephants or those who “work” in a semi-natural environment, in this case in the Asian logging industry. The major causes of the early death: obesity and stress, including from the tiny size of most zoo elephant exhibits in comparison to the size of wild elephants’ daily range. Comments Khyune Mar of the University of Sheffield in the UK: “…[E]very day is the same for zoo elephants, they have to live in the same compound, with limited roaming, this makes them more stressed…They need a huge home range, more systematic enrichment, bigger compounds, grooming areas, mud wallows, hills.” Freedom, too.