GORILLA is a French association based in Rwanda, in Africa, created in January 1986, which aims to protection gorillas. Interview of Fabrice Martinez, President of the association.
It’s been almost 30 years disappeared Dian Fossey, murdered in its hut of the research center of Karisoke in Rwanda. From the next day, Fabrice Martinez bases the Gorilla association, always active today. Self-taught of the Nature, his passion for gorillas often led him in Africa. Author of a book testimony, he is besides commander of Police in Vaucluse.
Fabrice Martinez and his Rwandan ski patrolman last November, on the track of gorillas, in the national park of volcanoes: ” I increased under the sign of Africa and its immense wild territories. Of Africa, I had imagined plains flooded with sun. But in the country of the gorillas of mountain, it is the cold, the rain and the mist which dominate.”
Your implication in the defense of gorillas began in Diane Fossey’s death?
Indeed, I had read her book “Gorilles dans la brume”. In the reading of this unpublished testimony, I realized the extraordinary experience of this exceptional woman in the borders of a world become absurd. My passion for gorillas was naturally multiplied tenfold there. Her death upset me durably. This inequitable drama announced the kick-off for a difficult succession and for gorillas, from now on orphan, a very sad fate. Finally, I launched into this adventure in the name of a woman and of a book. The choice of the gorilla holds the urgency of its situation. I was only 20 years old, but I was decided well to act, to immortalize modestly a great action early interrupted.
Diane Fossey thus stays your absolute reference?
There was also Christian Zuber. Teenager, I remained standing every evening in front of the television set to follow the adventures of Zuber, camera in the fist. This big traveler fascinated me and I dreamed to imitate him in one of its adventures around the world. In 14 years, I dreamed about Africa. I saw myself in the skin of an animal film-maker, a storyteller of natural histories. But I also loved Belmondo for his cop’s roles. Thus, on one side, a passion very early asserted for the wildlife, and by the other one, the confirmation of a vocation for a job which I imagined fascinating. Is not the everyday life of the policeman the extraordinary of others? In 16 years, I adhered to the WWF France.
I have never known how to answer completely this question. But is it necessary every time to explain things felt how to justify itself? A single thing had seemed to me essential: discover the deep nature of my passion for gorillas by confronting it with the reality. Meet finally those whom my heart had me by instinct commanded to like, to respect, and soon to protect. Because it has been many years since I had been born for this meeting. It was in me too certainly that the air which crossed my young lungs. Those of a young 20-year-old cop whose everyday life of a Parisian suburb inspired often much more the ferocity, the fear and the anxiety than this black jungle of volcanoes Virunga.
A striking memory ?
I remember my first night spent in the park of volcanoes, in Rwanda. Only under my tent, I had left to impose upon the border of an inaccessible dream, in search of absolute. I had still never seen wild gorillas. I would never forget my first meeting with these fascinating beings, no more than this unforgettable night in the hut of Dian Fossey, to Karisoke. Yes, my dream exists …
What is the current situation of gorillas generally? Are the populations always on the decline?
The situation of gorillas varies according to countries and regions. For example, that of the famous gorillas of mountain is satisfactory because their population is in constant increase for several years. It reaches the encouraging number of 880 individuals distributed on the border of three countries where are Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of the Congo (RDC). These unhoped-for figures can give some explanation by a territory in the limited surface, and thus easier to watch, to check. But also by a tourism gorillas which knows a big hit, with every year several thousand visitors come from the whole world to live an unforgettable meeting. The financial basket which generates the tourism benefits everybody. It is essential to the concerned States which are conscious of the exceptional asset which represents the presence of these gorillas on their territory. But the number does not reflect necessarily the degree of decline or threat. The said oriental gorillas of plain, subspecies belonging to the same species as the gorillas of mountain, were estimated, twenty years ago, at about 17.000 individuals. Yet, the armed conflicts which then burst in the east of the RDC made them lose at least half of their staff, and their massacre was again amplified to satisfy the demand of meat of bush on behalf of the researchers of coltan, ore desired by the manufacturers of the electronic devices, to begin with the mobile phone and the games consoles. The western gorillas of plain are this day more than 100.000 to roam in the forests of the pond of Congo (Cameroon, Gabon, the Centrafrique …), where they keep however being victims of the poaching, the deforestation and even the Ebola virus. Although the most numerous of all the gorillas, their general population is comparable to that of the inhabitants of mid-sized cities as Nancy or Perpignan ..
What are the main threats which weigh on their survival?
The report is unfortunately dramatic. Great apes need forest for their survival. Gold, the precious wood attracts the greeds of the forest companies. Its exploitation threatens the balances. With the opening of new roads and tracks, the poachers move more easily. The laws being little or not applied in most of the western Equatorial African countries, the gorillas continue to be hunted all year long for their meat. While zoos opened to the public do not import any more the gorillas of Africa since good about forty years, it is not excluded that babies are always captured to feed private zoos, in particular in the Middle East. And then, I said it, gorillas remain victims of the Ebola virus and we estimate at several thousands gorillas victims of this epidemic since the 1990s.
Do we today manage to fight effectively against these threats?
Nothing is less certain. The Ebola virus continues to go on the rampage. Gorillas already paid one very heavy toll to this epidemic which nothing seems to be able to check. Nothing stops either the hunters which sometimes take advantage of the complicity of those who are in charge of making apply the laws. Everything hunts in Africa, of the squirrel to the elephant, and well on great apes. In Congo, for example, rifles work all year long. They are lent or exchanged. And even if the hunting is sometimes closed, the bush, it, remains open. All in all, it is every year several hundred gorillas which are illegally killed by poachers in Congo, in Cameroon … because the gorilla, the endangered species, remains a species supposed to be entirely protected by the laws of these countries.
Great apes benefit from an important effort of preservation. Are the results up to this international commitment?
I think that Rwanda is a model of its kind. The efforts granted by this small country to protect this rare species bears fruit. It is an example which try to follow, often successfully, Uganda and RDC. However, nothing is ever acquired and the political instability which knows regularly this region of Central Africa establish a risk for these populations of gorillas which need before any peace. In the rest of Africa where spaces are immense and thus difficult to check, it is always very difficult to establish a precise balance sheet. It goes without saying that the situation of these big primates is catastrophic.
How is it necessary to act to protect effectively gorillas?
Dian Fossey said that the national parks had been created to protect an endangered species and its housing environment. It should not suffer from no compromise. The key is in the forest and in the will of countries concerned to protect territories having status of national park or reserve. The priority is at first to protect a territory against the human intrusions, that they are farmers tried by the exploitation of new plots of land, or poachers, in search of meat of bush or firewood. We cannot either save the gorilla without associating with it closely the local populations established in the limits of their territory. The natives must be possible the most widely associated to this effort of preservation. Nothing will be made without them. Gorillas represent a considerable economic asset and a man to everything to win to protect these rare great apes. Would finally the current laws in these African countries have to be strictly respected because they exist.
Can you summarize the action which you lead through the association Gorilla?
Gorilla is a small association with international vocation which acts since France in support for various existing projects for the protection of great apes and gorillas in particular. She supports in particular the programs of fight anti-poaching and of raising awareness of the local populations. She will celebrate this year her 30 years of existence!
How do you see the future of gorillas?
Uncertain, and the concern stays of putting. I believe however that no fight is vain if it has for principle to protect the life. If I thought that everything was definitively lost, I would immediately stop acting. But a hope remains. To show itself coherent and determined. The laws must be respected, applied without weakness. The strengthened ways. The problem remains crucial, critical. The man always requires more lands, spaces, to the detriment of the wild world. At this stage, an overall policy of the birth rate seems to me essential. The ideal being forward to fall of the space in animals so that they can have vaster and better protected territories. In brief, the future of the gorilla is closely linked to the wisdom of men. What place do we want to leave with great apes? It is a question which it is going to need to answer because time is short. And the most pessimistic of us consider that if nothing is made, great apes will have disappeared by 2050 … Unacceptable.
1964 : Birth in Pezenas (Hérault).
Childhood in Pierrelatte (Drôme)
December, 26, 1985 : Diane Fossey’s death
January 1986 : He creates Gorilla’s association