Sunday, November 30, 2014

Monkey Business

Photo Courtesy of  Ice,
Dreamstime Stock Photo
My friend Kari called me Wednesday. She was in a village with her mobile clinic and a few community members brought her a baby vervet monkey. The mother had been killed. The baby, not more than a few weeks old, was helpless and hungry. Would she rescue it? Also, could she give them 2500 MWK (about $5) to help them keep it alive?  

Kari is a missionary and prone to helping. But she smelled a trap. In places where there a few ways to make money, exotic animal trafficking is a real and present danger. People will sell almost anything they think there is a market for. She called me, thinking I might know someone who worked in wildlife management who could advise her. I passed her the number for the Lilongwe Wildlife Center, Malawi’s only wildlife sanctuary.

The Wildlife Center told her that this kind of stuff happens all the time. Because they wanted money from her, it is likely that someone in the village purposefully killed the mother. Sure, she could bring back that one baby to their center, but by buying it she’d be playing into the very black market they were trying to stop. They told her,as hard as it was, to leave it in the village. When she tried to do so, the folks with the animal protested, saying they owed her 500 MWK (about $1) for ‘turning them in’. It was then she knew she was doing the right thing, even if not for that specific baby.

I told my regional director later about this, all the while cursing the stupid meanness of those villagers. He grew up in Zambia and owns a game farm in the northern part of that country. It’s one thing to read about animal trafficking from far away. It’s quite another to know that someone who wanted your money killed an innocent animal just to play on your sympathies. The duplicity and cruelness of it had my blood boiling. 

He cautioned me not to think too harshly of the people who did this – not because they weren’t stupid and mean - but because they were playing a zero-sum game. Killing wildlife for a quick buck is a short term fix for the long term problem of endemic poverty. Not excusing their behavior, he counseled me to think of it in context. If it went on this way, eventually no monkeys would be left. It was a far bigger tragedy than one baby monkey. And besides, he said, vervets make terrible pets.

I try to think about this in a way that doesn't make me sad, angry or depressed, but I don't get very far. I know this doesn't represent all of Malawi or Malawians, but it reveals another layer of cruelty that I don't often think about. As hard as it is for humans, life here for animals is equally abysmal. I see the bigger picture, but I still kind of wish Kari had a pet monkey right now.

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