UN peacekeepers in the Eastern DRC have expanded their mandate to protect the gorilla polity. According to the UN Mission to the DRC:
MONUC peacekeepers will airlift nine orphan gorillas from Rwanda and Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to a permanent sanctuary in Kasugho, near the Tayna Nature Reserve in DRC, following a request from the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN) and the Diane Fossey Gorilla Fund.
MONUC helicopters will carry three young gorillas from Goma to Kasugho in late April and six adolescent gorillas from Rwanda to Kasugho in May. They will be accompanied by veterinarians and other helpers. Scientists believe that surface transportation would be too difficult and traumatic for the animals.
While peacekeepers might be the new wave of environmental hippies, that seems unlikely. Alan Doss, the head of MONUC, can’t be happy about spending money on gorilla-airlifts while his soldiers are getting killed in battle and his organization is losing credibility in the eyes of the people they are supposed to protect.
However, this is because MONUC isn’t just accountable to the Congolese. MONUC is also accountable to the governments who provide it funding, and the departments within those governments who drive development and humanitarian agendas. As such, there are structural incentives for MONUC to engage in media stunts that appear good. Everybody loves photos of saved gorillas.
The airlift illustrates the strength of these incentives. Its hard to imagine the Congolese are happy about peacekeepers spending their money on gorillas rather than humans and will probably be upset about the move. However, if it wasn’t the gorillas, it would have been something else. Fundamentally its a question of who MONUC is accountable to and what are the incentives driving their decisions.
That said, there will be awesome photos of peacekeepers giving excited thumbs-up around tranquilized gorillas distributed later this week.