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Circle Wide Quintet, Playing 'Like Before'

Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews Like Before, Somewhat After, the new recording from drummer George Schuller and his quintet Circle Wide. The disc salutes the music of pianist Keith Jarrett's '70s-era quartet.


Other segments from the episode on June 24, 2008

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 24, 2008: Interview with Brent Stirton; Review of George Schuller's "Like before, somewhat after."


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Photojournalist Brent Stirton on his trip back to the
site of a mountain gorilla massacre in Congo last year

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Why were six mountain gorillas, primates threatened with extinction, executed
last July in their sanctuary in the Congo's Virunga National Park. The answer
is a microcosm of the war in the Congo and the aftermath of the Rwandan
genocide, involving brutal militias, corruption, smuggling and an
environmental nightmare. My guest Brent Stirton took an amazing photo for
Newsweek last year that brought global attention to the gorilla massacre. It
was a picture of a dead 500-pound male named Senkwekwe tied on its back to a
stretcher made out of sapling branches. Over a dozen African men are carrying
Senkwekwe out of the car. When Stirton took that photo last July, he wanted
to find out who murdered the gorillas and why. He recently got his chance to
investigate when he became the first photojournalist allowed back into the
part of the park where the mountain gorillas live, a section of the park now
controlled by a militia. With Stirton was reporter Mark Jenkins. They have
the cover story in the new edition of the National Geographic: "Who Murdered
the Mountain Gorillas?" A companion documentary will be shown July 1st on the
National Geographic channel. You can see Stirton's photos on our Web site,

And I want to give you this head's up: Our conversation will contain some
brief descriptions of animal cruelty which some listeners may find too
disturbing to listen to.

Brent Stirton, welcome to FRESH AIR.

You know, when I first saw the picture and I didn't know the story yet, but I
just saw the picture of this large mountain gorilla being carried on a palette
by a group of African men, I thought, this is such an amazing picture. I
don't even know, `Are these people who murdered the gorilla? Are these people
who are trying to give the gorilla a burial? Is this some kind of strange
ritual? Like, what is going on here?' But you just kind of freeze in your
tracks, seeing the photo.

Mr. BRENT STIRTON: Sure. I understand that's a surreal image. A lot of
people have said to me they thought it was a film stock, that they didn't
think it was a real moment. It's a complex image, but what you are watching
is the very empathetic and respectful evacuation of these animals by local
villagers and local conservation rangers. They're moving the gorillas from
the area where they were slaughtered to a place where they can be taken for

GROSS: Six gorillas were killed in that massacre, seven if you count the
gorilla that was being carried by the pregnant female who was killed. How
were these gorillas killed? Like, what were the ways that they were

Mr. STIRTON: These gorillas were killed late in the evening. They were
killed just in the final light, and they were shot by AK-47. On average,
these gorillas can sustain at least three to five rounds each. One of the
female gorillas, the gorilla that was pregnant and a couple of months away
from giving birth, was in fact also burned in a sort of final sadistic act.

GROSS: You describe these as executions.

Mr. STIRTON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: How did you know that they were executions, as opposed to, say,

Mr. STIRTON: We know that these were executions because we know that from
prior poaching incidents involving gorillas that they would normally take the
head or the hands or at the very least a degree of bush meat from these
creatures. On average they would be looking for the infants, which they would
be trying to sell. There always been some degree of market for infant
gorillas, though it's not know that any infant market gorillas ever survived
those kinds of transactions. The fact that these gorillas were simply killed
and left in the forest ensured for us that there was kind of statement going
on here, that this wasn't random, this was planned. And the fact that they
were shot at close range, that many wounds existed, the burnt female gorilla,
all of this, you know, although a mystery at the time that we discovered the
bodies, plainly was not about a poaching incident.

GROSS: So you were sure that somebody was sending a message to somebody else
through executing these gorillas.

Mr. STIRTON: I was sure that a message was being sent here. We just weren't
sure who was sending that message and what the rationale was behind the

GROSS: Before we get to what you learned about who was sending the message
and why, let's talk a little bit more about what happened in those executions.
One of your photos from last July is one of these large magnificent mountain
gorillas who has been executed with a large leaf over the genital area, and
another large leaf over the face. And I wasn't sure when I saw that photo how
to read it. Was this, you know, how people cover the faces of humans when
they die? Was this that kind of thing and covering the genital area almost
out of respect for the gorillas dignity or modesty or whatever it was, or was
something else going on here?

Mr. STIRTON: Let me first qualify this entire incident in a certain context.
I'd been covering conflict in this region of the world for more than 10 years,
and I've seen a fair amount of horror, but I've never seen that degree of
stoicism or sobriety or somberness. I've never seen that displayed as much as
I saw amongst the men who went to collect the bodies of these gorillas. It
was a very sober affair. There was no talking. It was very quiet. For many
moments at a time the only thing you could hear was the sound of people
walking. And normally when you put a bunch of African men together and
they're involved in some degree of physical labor, no matter how traumatic
that might be, there'll be some talking, there'll be some singing, there'll be
some degree of conversation. That never happened on this occasion, and I'd
never seen that before. Even when people were collecting the bodies of
humans, when I have seen massacre sites out there, I've never seen a reaction
as quiet or as sobering as I did when they recovered those bodies.

What you're seeing when you see the leaves on animal's body is twofold. OK?
They are a group of men out there that will tell you they covered the wounds
of these animals out of respect. There's a certain spiritual element to that.
And there's also the element of fluids have been leaking from these bodies
during the transportation process, so there's a practical element to it. But
I think that you could tell a lot about this practice when you considered the
reverence in which it was done. The men that actually lashed these gorillas
to these saplings for transportation did that very gently. When they placed
the leaves in the wounds and around the genital areas, that occurred because
there are wounds in those areas. And like I say, it was simply a combination
of practicality and respect.

GROSS: Well, you know, on your Web site, you have some photos that I don't
think were published in either Newsweek or National Geographic. And one of
them is of one of the gorillas before the gorilla was covered by the leaves.
And you see genital wounds and you see the face burned and disfigured.

Mr. STIRTON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And it makes the crime so much even more grotesque, that the genitals
and the face were intentionally burned and wounded.

Mr. STIRTON: Terry, I must tell you that the genital wound that you're
talking about is, actually, it's a machete wound that occurred with one of the
females. It's a cut that sort of--it severs the main muscles of the leg
joint. I didn't know what was going on in the mind of the people who did this
at the time, but it seems to have been a crime that it was done in order to
build a great anger. It was a power statement. All the things that

GROSS: When you say build an anger, you mean among the people who witnessed
this, who would see the remains?

Mr. STIRTON: That's correct. You know, obviously our investigation
subsequent to the discovery of these animals pointed to why this occurred, but
when we discovered the bodies initially, it was very much--it seemed to be
something that was done for no good reason, other than to further humiliate
and denigrate the bodies of these creatures.

GROSS: These creatures who are an endangered specie right now. There's only
about 700 of them who still survive. How did you come upon this scene? I
mean, it's amazing that you were there with your camera.

Mr. STIRTON: Well, I must credit Newsweek for having the foresight to want
to do this story. Scott Johnson is the Newsweek bureau chief for Africa, and
he and I worked on this story together. We had wanted to cover this group of
rangers who we felt were doing the most dangerous job in the world of
conservation. Virunga National Park right now has two rebel army factions and
at least five different militia groups operating within the park. There's 650
rangers for the entire conservation area of Congo. And these people receive
very little money, and 110 of them have died in the last 10 years trying to do
this job. So it really is an incredible labor of love. These are some of the
most dedicated conservationists in the world, and they do so with no resources
and very little help.

The reason we chose this time was because our research had indicated that it
was likely that there would be clashes between this group and militia groups
in the park. A group of 50 specialized rangers, Congolese conservation
authority rangers, had recently been sent to South Africa for specialized
training in bush warfare, so our rationale for doing this story was that we
would go to the park to accompany a group of these specialized rangers who
would be in the park primarily to, you know, be in confrontational situations
with these militia groups, and we wanted to see how that would play out.

GROSS: Having no idea that what you would see was the results of the
execution of six mountain gorillas?

Mr. STIRTON: We had no idea that the execution of the gorillas would occur,
but we did expect that there would be confrontation between the rangers and a
militia group, and that was going to be the core of our story.

GROSS: What was your reaction when you came on the scene?

Mr. STIRTON: Well, I was stunned at how sober this occasion was. I was
just, you know, as I've said to you, I'd been working in the Congo since 1994,
and I've seen some horrific things there. It is, you know, a place where the
value for human life is at an all-time low. So seeing how dark on occasions
this was for these rangers, it was very enlightening for me. It also,
frankly, I think, was sort of the dawning of my own awakening as to the
relationship between conservation and conflict. And just, you know, the space
that we are in with regards to some of our resources, whether they are animals
or flora or fauna or whatever, it was, for me, definitely the first time where
I really made the connection in my own mind between the fact that, yes, this
was a conflict zone, but it didn't just involve humans.

GROSS: My guest is photojournalist Brent Stirton. We'll talk more about his
National Geographic cover story about the mountain gorilla massacre after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is photojournalist Brent Stirton,
and he did the photos for the cover story of the new issue of National
Geographic, and then there's a companion documentary that will be shown July
1st. And the cover story is called "Who Murdered the Mountain Gorillas?" And
it's about the execution-style murders of six mountain gorillas, an endangered
specie, in Virunga National Park in the Congo.

Brent, you know, one of the amazing things about this story is it reveals how
Virunga National Park has become a microcosm for the larger conflict in the
area. The conflict has spilled over the border of the park into the heart of
the park. There's a Hutu militia, a Tutsi militia, Congolese army, all
operating from within the park, and other militias as well. And it sounds
like the Congolese army, or at least many members of the army, are very
corrupt and do what they want to do to make money from whichever militia is
going to give it to them.

Mr. STIRTON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And the militias are exploiting the resources in the park and using it
for their private trade, making a fortune off of it, ruining the park in the
process. How did the militias end up in the park after the Rwandan genocide?

Mr. STIRTON: What's happening in the park goes back further than a decade.
It goes back to the 1994 Rwandan genocide. When that genocide occurred, the
people responsible for the genocide were chased into the Congo, into the Goma
region and set up in a camp of more than a million people. In amongst that
million people were the hard-core genociders, the ones responsible for the
genocide. Eight thousand of those people still remain in Virunga National
Park today. Allied against those people today are the CNDP under General
Laurent Nkunda, who are the opposing army against those Hutu militia groups.
In the middle of that you have to add the Congolese army, who are in relations
with the Hutu militia groups and in opposition to General Laurent Nkunda at
this time. But there has been collusion within all these militia groups. In
1995, those Hutu militias entered into business relationships with members of
the Congolese army.

And I must point out that not all members of the Congolese army are corrupt.
There are some good men. But it is a place of extreme poverty, so any kind of
business opportunity that presents itself is likely to be jumped upon. One of
the major business opportunities obviously for Virunga is the illegal charcoal
industry. Virunga is the only source of hardwood trees in the area, hardwood
trees produce great charcoal. It burns longer. It burns hotter. And
charcoal is the primary fuel of this region. So since 1995, members of the
FDLR Hutu militia groups, the Hutu extremists who were responsible for the
genocide in Rwanda, those members in Virunga have been in cahoots with members
of the Congolese army and with businessmen in Goma, and engaged in an illegal
charcoal industry. It's very difficult for the rangers to combat that
industry because obviously it's a dangerous activity to get involved in.

GROSS: So by cutting down these old hardwood trees to make charcoal...

Mr. STIRTON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...part of Virunga Park is basically being ruined.

Mr. STIRTON: These are ancient forests, OK? So people say, `Well, can't you
just replant?' Well, no, actually. Because you're altering the sustainability
of the entire region and you're changing the water basin, you're changing the
entire pattern by which this ecosystem operates. You know, when you fly over
Virunga and you look down, there are enormous tracts of destruction. And, you
know, those areas unfortunately are gone forever. So what I think the rangers
of Virunga are trying to do at this stage is simply trying to preserve as much
as they can until a more peaceful time where it might be possible to try to
grow some of these areas again in the long term.

GROSS: How does the relationship between the park rangers, who are trying to
save the forest and save the mountain gorillas, their relationship to the
militias, how does that come in in helping to explain the execution of the
mountain gorillas? You said before you knew that somebody was sending a
message to somebody through these executions of the mountain gorillas.

Mr. STIRTON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Having gone back, who do you think now was sending a message to whom?

Mr. STIRTON: The people behind the illegal charcoal operations in Virunga
National Park are the people behind the gorilla killings. There's no doubt in
my mind about that. And all avenues of our investigation have led us to that
conclusion. The charcoal industry in Virunga National Park occurs between
members of the Goma business community, members of the FDLR and Hutu
Interahamwe forces, members of General Laurent Nkunda's CNDP militia forces,
and local businessmen came to exploit the park in any way that they can. All
of those people are complicit in the illegal charcoal industry. Their
charcoal industry decimates the park, but it's also worth an average of $30
million in arguably one of the world's poorest regions. So it's an industry
where there is no industry. It's an economy where there is no economy. So
there's a great momentum to maintain that.

What essentially happened was that a group of very concerned, very courageous,
very ethical park rangers discovered that the chief supervisor of the park, a
man called Honore Mashagiru, was in fact involved in directing the illegal
charcoal operations. We believe that the gorillas were killed in an attempt
to discredit the conservation rangers who were against the illegal charcoal
industry, and we believe that the gorillas were killed as a power statement by
that illegal charcoal lobby in order to say to the ethical rangers, `We can do
whatever we like, and if you interfere in our business, this is the kind of
thing that will happen.'

GROSS: Now, you were the first photojournalist allowed back in the area of
the park where the mountain gorillas lived. How were you able to get in?

Mr. STIRTON: We had been waiting to go back in for a while, and we were
repeatedly told by various conservational...(unintelligible) the region
that it would be impossible to go there. And there is some truth to that
statement, but myself and National Geographic writer Mark Jenkins, we decided
that, you know, immediately after the latest peace treaty was signed in
January of 2008, that it would be a good time to try and go and see if we
could get inside. So we went back to the Democratic Republic of Congo, we
went to the Goma region, and we arranged to see General Laurent Nkunda. Now,
General Laurent Nkunda is the head of the CNDP, which is the militia group,
the rebel army group which currently occupies the gorilla sector of Virunga
National Park. They have occupied that sector since August of 2007, and they
have excluded the Congolese conservation authorities from that area since

GROSS: So this is basically shortly after the executions of the mountain
gorillas, this militia group moved in and took control of the area where the
mountain gorillas lived.

Mr. STIRTON: That's correct.

GROSS: So it's been closed off to the rest of the world.

Mr. STIRTON: It has been, yes.

What I should point out is that there's active conflict in the Congo. The
most recent conflict in the Congo took place from August of 2007. The
majority of that fighting happened between Laurent Nkunda's CNDP militia
group, the FDLR Hutu Interahamwe group, who are their sworn enemies, and the
Congolese army, who have also been fighting against General Nkunda's CNDP
group. That fighting concluded in January 2008, and since that time, no
conservation authority has been allowed to operate within the gorilla sector.
So all we knew was that the gorilla sector was occupied by this rebel group,
but no contact had been possible. The rangers who had traditionally looked
after the gorillas had been excluded from that sector, and no one essentially
knew what the future was or what the status quo was with regards to the
remaining mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo. So myself
and National Geographic writer Mark Jenkins, we decided we would go to Congo,
and we made an appointment to go and see General Laurent Nkunda.

GROSS: Brent Stirton will be back in the second half of the show. He took
the photos for the July National Geographic cover story "Who Murdered the
Mountain Gorillas?" You can see his photos on our Web site,
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with photojournalist Brent
Stirton. One year ago he witnessed and photographed the discovery of six
mountain gorillas who were massacred in their sanctuary, the Congo's Virunga
National Park. His photo in Newsweek of a murdered 500-pound silverback being
carried out of the park, tied on his back to a stretcher of saplings, brought
global attention to the story. Stirton recently returned to the park along
with reporter Mark Jenkins to investigate who was behind the gorilla massacre.
They have the cover story in the new edition of National Geographic. In order
to get into the part of the park where the mountain gorillas live, they had to
get the permission of the militia leader who has controlled that sector of the
park since shortly after the massacre. When we left off, Stirton said he and
Jenkins went to the Congo and made an appointment to see the militia leader,
General Nkunda.

Could you just like make an appointment to see this fearsome militia leader
who has been accused of war crimes, including massacres, rape and the forcible
recruitment of child soldiers? You could just set up an appointment with him?

Mr. STIRTON: Well, like most military leaders, they'd like to put their own
spin on things. They'd like to manipulate the media in any way they can to
their advantage. They'd like to put their own point of view across; and, you
know, I think there's a degree of ego to any encounter with the media when it
comes to powerful people. I think that Mr. Nkunda was aware of the fact that
he'd had some bad public relationships with radio on the gorilla issue, so we
wanted to give him a chance to put his point of view across, and we said so.

And so Mark and myself, we got in a vehicle, we drove to the area where he was
apparently based, and we set up a series of phone calls and go-betweens and we
were eventually taken to his base in an area of the Democratic Republic of
Congo called Kirolirwe in the eastern provinces of Congo. And we went up and
had a lunch with the guy and, you know, sat down and asked him his opinions on
what was going on in the gorilla sector. He reassured us that he was very
pro-conservation and very concerned that the right information regarding his
troops and the gorillas was out there. He had been very concerned about the
gorilla issue, because in January of 2007 it was reported that CNDP troops,
his troops, had in fact shot and eaten a mountain gorilla. So, you know,
General Laurent Nkunda was obviously very keen to repair whatever public
relations damage had occurred with regards to his troops and the mountain
gorilla issue.

GROSS: Do you believe him when he says that they're protecting the mountain

Mr. STIRTON: Well, let me explain what happened when we got there. In the
course of our interview with General Nkunda, he reassured us that everything
that was possible to protect the gorillas was being done, and that the
Congolese conservation authorities were welcome back at any time and he would
protect them.

But what was contradictory about that statement was that at exactly the same
moment that we were conducting that interview, members of the ICCN, which is
the Congolese conservation authority, were visiting Bunigana and trying to see
the people who had taken over this illegal parallel administration, this
illegal group of rangers who were now looking after the mountain gorilla
sector under Nkunda's regime. When they had tried to go in there and talk to
them, General Nkunda's second in command had threatened those rangers with
execution and told them emphatically that if they had not come with UN
protection, they would have been executed on the spot. So for me, that means
that anything that General Laurent Nkunda has to say has to be taken with
quite a large pinch of salt.

GROSS: Now, you took a photograph that's published in the current National
Geographic of General Nkunda, the leader of this militia, and it's quite a
photo. I mean, he's sitting on a wooden chair in the middle of the park.
There's like nothing around him except like grass and trees and he's seated on
this chair, and the only other thing around him is a lot of armed guards with
automatic weapons acting as his bodyguards.

Mr. STIRTON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: He's wearing sunglasses, a dark suit, an immaculate white shirt with
cufflinks, white socks, black shoes, and he has a very elegant cane that he's
leaning on that has like a silver tip that looks like it's in the shape of a
snake head or a bird's head.

Mr. STIRTON: It's an eagle head.

GROSS: An eagle head, OK. And it's quite an elegant photo. I mean, it's
kind of like the GQ of the militia world, do you know? So can you talk a
little bit about taking this incredibly elegant photo of this brutal militia
leader who's accused of being a war criminal?

Mr. STIRTON: (Unintelligible)...well, I think that you have to understand
that General Nkunda is very aware of his public image.

GROSS: I figured, yeah.

Mr. STIRTON: You know, I've seen him in a number of different outfits,
everything from a Desert Storm outfit to an American Marine outfit to wearing
his American Stetson and looking like a cowboy to a purple hip-hop track suit.
So this suit was only his latest manifestation. What was interesting about
this interview is that when I called him the general, you know, he said, `No,
no, I'm the chairman now.' And Mark, the Geographic writer, had asked him, you
know, `What's next for you, Mr. Chairman?' And he looked at us and said,
`Yeah, Kinshasa.' Now, Kinsasha's the capital of the Democratic Republic of
Congo, and it's direct reference to his political aspirations. So I think
that when it comes to General Nkunda, he thinks very carefully about how he
presents himself to the media. But at the same time, he does definitely enjoy
the attention, and he's not unaware of the fact that being in Geographic has
tremendous reach. And I think he thought very seriously about what he wanted
to wear for that day.

GROSS: It looks it. It definitely looks like he thought about it. Did he
give you any advice about how he wanted to be represented or what he would or
wouldn't allow you to do when shooting him?

Mr. STIRTON: Well, you know, the thing is that from a purely practical point
of view, there's a house on a hill and then there's a landscape. And General
Nkunda's all about the appropriation of land. Here's a man who wants to carve
out a space for himself, not only in terms of history but in terms of physical
space. So it made a lot of sense for me to put him in a landscape that he has
essentially like appropriated.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. STIRTON: I mean, everything that's around him doesn't belong to him,
it's simply there because of the force of his militia group. You know,
exactly the same as his presence in the gorilla sector. I mean, he has no
right to be there whatsoever. There's no legal precedent whatsoever for his
occupation. It is illegal. And only through his force is he able to be
there; and only through the support of Rwanda, who is his patron, is he able
to be in that sector. So I guess that in making that picture--you know, it's
not a picture that I had a lot of time to make, but I guess I'm trying to hint
at those elements.

GROSS: The head of this militia told you that you had his permission, you and
the writer for National Geographic, Mark Jenkins.

Mr. STIRTON: Mark.

GROSS: That you had the militia leader's permission to go to where the
mountain gorillas lived in the section of the park that the militia leader now
controls, and look for yourself.

Mr. STIRTON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And look at how his men treat the mountain gorillas. He neglected to
tell you that the road you had to take to get there was mined.

Mr. STIRTON: That's correct, yes.

GROSS: How did you find out that it was mined?

Mr. STIRTON: The reason Mark and I really, you know, were wary about this
road--let's put it this way. We drove to this area, we were dropped off by
our driver, and we then started to walk up this road. Now, I've walked up
this road before, the previous year, and this is an area that's normally
heavily populated, and there's lots of people around, etc. And when we began
walking up this rode, it was very quick, and we were very quick to see that
there's no one and that the road was completely overgrown, it hadn't been
used. All of those things sort of makes you start thinking.

So I guess we kind of walked a quarter of the way up this road and, you know,
we were careful, we walked along the sides of the road, and we weren't sure
whether this place was mined or not, but we decided that it was probably a bad
idea. So we walked back down the road retracing our steps, and we walked to
the local mission. Now, the local mission is occupied by the United Nations
peacekeepers at this time, and, you know, they confirmed for us that, yes,
they thought the road was mined, but they couldn't be sure. The only time we
actually found out the road was definitely mined was by the time we'd finished
working in the gorilla sector.

But let me first say that we went through this old mission where the UN was
operating. They couldn't quite believe that we wanted to go up and see this
rebel group, but they didn't feel like they could stop us, so Mark and I
walked up this mountain that was behind the group, behind this mission, and
got to the top of the first series of hills and were promptly arrested by a
group who we had been informed by General Nkunda and his immediate area
commanders that this group would be expecting us. Unfortunately, that
particular command had not been translated or certainly passed on to any of
the sentries, so we were arrested and marched off to the local area commander,
you know, about an hour away from this area where we were arrested.

Once we got to this base they made a couple of calls, and everyone ascertained
that, yes, we were indeed supposed to be there and that this local area
commander should host us and direct us to the gorillas the following day.

GROSS: My guest is photojournalist Brent Stirton. We'll talk more about his
National Geographic cover story about the mountain gorilla massacre after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is photojournalist Brent Stirton. He and reporter Mark
Jenkins have the cover story in the new edition of National Geographic
magazine. It's about who's responsible for last summer's massacre of six
mountain gorillas in their sanctuary, the Congo's Virunga National Park. The
area of the park where the gorillas live is now controlled by a militia.

So the leader of this militia told you that his men believed in conservation
and they were watching over and protecting the mountain gorillas?

Mr. STIRTON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: So when you got to the part of the park where the mountain gorillas
lived, what kind of interaction did you see between the men from the militia
and the mountain gorillas?

Mr. STIRTON: Well, I should explain that General Laurent Nkunda has
appointed a member of his extended family, a warden Karna, who is now in
charge of the parallel administration that General Nkunda has established to
look after, or supposed to look after these gorillas. But I would have to say
that warden Karna is someone who had a bad record with the conservation
authority in the Congo prior to this occupation. He is someone who had
previously had deserted his post and had only reappeared on the gorilla
protection scene once General Laurent Nkunda actually overtook the gorilla
sector and occupied it. There is also a number of seven or eight rangers who
this warden Karna said he was working with at the time, none of these rangers
are people who had spent significant time with the gorillas previously. In my
prior, you know, work in the gorilla sector, none of the rangers who were
actually an authority on gorilla protection were still working in the park.
Those men have been chased off by Nkunda's troops and these lesser authorities
placed in authority instead of them.

So when Mark and myself went to see the gorillas with Nkunda's men, at a
certain point on our patrol into the forest, we came to warden Karna, who was
waiting for us, and he took us into the forest along with this patrol of
40-odd militia men, and we then walked for a two-hour period into the bush,
very thick, very hot, not an easy thing to do, to see the gorillas in the
Congo. But what was really striking and alarming for me is that when we
finally got to see these gorillas, the militia men were far more concerned
about using their cell phones and their small digital cameras to take photos
of themselves with the gorillas than they were about observing what is the
correct protocols when it comes to gorilla safety.

I should explain that disease is transferred really easily between humans and
gorillas, and what we consider to be a minor disease--for example,
influenza--can be fatal to gorilla families. And bear in mind that there are
just over 700 surviving mountain gorillas in the world today. So when Mark
and myself go into the bush with this kind of militia out there and we see
that this militia group gets within two meters of the mountain gorillas,
that's just not acceptable at all.

GROSS: So even if their intentions are good, even if they really want to help
the gorillas, they're not trained in how to do that.

Mr. STIRTON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And can unintentionally kill them just through spreading their germs
by getting too close.

Mr. STIRTON: Absolutely.

GROSS: So...

Mr. STIRTON: Also, I would point out that the rangers that are traditionally
in charge of these gorillas have been doing that for 15 or 20 years in most
cases. They are trained to see what the dynamics are within the families.
They are trained to make sure that there's not too much gorilla/human
interaction or contact. They're trained in recognizing whether there's any
diseases present in the gorilla groups, whether there's any wounds, what needs
to be done, how they need to be treated. I mean, these people are experts,
and they're experts because they've spent years doing this incredibly
difficult job. And they're experts because the level of dedication that they
bring to that job. So, you know, it's not enough to turn around and say, `Oh,
well, we're protecting the gorillas now.' For Nkunda to make that statement is

GROSS: I bet the park rangers who have protected and watched over the
mountain gorillas for so many years and have now been forced out by the
militia that controls the area, I bet they're very upset because they've
become so emotionally attached to the gorillas by observing and protecting
them for so many years.

Mr. STIRTON: Mm-hmm. The average statement you would hear from the
conservation rangers that have spent the most time with the gorillas is they
feel they have been separated from their families. That's how closely they
see their relationship with these gorilla populations. And, you know, it's a
fact. I've spent time with the conservation rangers who are the legitimate
gorilla authorities. I've seen how they interact with these gorillas. I've
seen the fact that the gorillas are accustomed to having them around. That
they're comfortable having them around. That there's a certain understanding
that exists between these animals and these rangers. Then I've spent time
with rangers who are now in a position where they're supposed to be observing
these gorilla groups, and I've seen how afraid they are, how nervous they are
around the gorillas. I've seen how agitated the gorillas are, how nervous the
gorillas are. It's not a calm and easy relationship.

GROSS: The area of the world that you're documenting through your photographs
now in National Geographic, Virunga National Park in the Congo...

Mr. STIRTON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: This is an area in which--what?--about five million people have been
killed in the past few years in conflict? It's a huge amount.

Mr. STIRTON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: You know, the Rwanda genocide happened in this area right across the
border; and yet, you know, you bring the mountain gorillas into the equation
and somehow it brings a new level of attention to the story. Have you thought
a lot about that, why is it five million people have been killed?

Mr. STIRTON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: There's 700 mountain gorillas. Six of them were executed in one day a
year ago, and that brought just global attention to this story. Can you talk
a little bit about your reflections on how the mountain gorillas brought a new
level of attention after so many millions of people were killed?

Mr. STIRTON: Sure. The most surreal aspect for me is the fact we have been
covering the human atrocity elements of what's been happening in the Congo for
a long time. And, you know, we've published some very harrowing stories, and
it continues to be a place where, you know, some of the most barbaric human
rights abuses in our world are occurring on a daily basis. So the fact that
the pictures of the dead mountain gorillas elicited the attention that they
did, you know, there was a surreal moment for me, because I haven't quite put
my finger on it, but I think that the general psychology behind it is that
when you start talking about millions in terms of human death, there's a
certain head-in-the-sand thing that happens to us as human beings. Our sense
of collective responsibility is diluted by the sheer number of people. When
it starts becoming an issue of millions of people dead, then I think we have a
tendency, you know, as a civilization to avoid responsibility because we fear,
you know, there's nothing we can do about those kinds of numbers. It's too
big, too daunting.

But when you talk about a fragile mountain gorilla population, which for some
reason this incredible interaction that occurs between human beings and these
gorillas, you know, they are second only to chimpanzees in terms of DNA
patterns, so they are essentially the closest animal on the planet to us, bar
one. I think that when you start talking about smaller numbers, people feel
that, yes, there might be some possibility to do something. For me
personally, I'm just happy to see that the attention is focused on this region
in general. Yes, I want something done about this mountain gorilla
population. No question. I think something can be done. But I also hope
that these animals can work as a symbol for what's wrong with the region and
can draw greater attention to that and you know, in a perfect world, form some
sort of mechanism whereby people can start to think more rationally about what
they're doing to each other in this part of the world.

GROSS: There's so much at stake now in the Virunga National Park. You've got
the lives of the remaining mountain gorillas. You've got, I think, millions
of refugees living in the park and around the border.

Mr. STIRTON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: You've got ongoing conflict between militias and the Congolese army.
You've got the basically rape and pillaging of the forest itself for personal

Mr. STIRTON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: So is there anything you think the international community could do to
help save the people, the gorillas and the park itself?

Mr. STIRTON: I think that the best thing that the international community
could do would be to try to enforce better government in this region of the
world. I think that essentially you must recognize that there are two militia
armies in Virunga National Park, and those armies exist because, one, the FDLR
Interahamwe Hutu guerillas need to be allowed back into Rwanda for proper due
process. Certain guarantees need to be in place by the Rwandan government in
order to make that happen. I think that should go ahead and that there should
be some resolution, and have them out of the forest as quickly as possible.

I think that when it comes to General Laurent Nkunda and his entrance in the
gorilla sector, I think again that the US State Department could put
sufficient pressure on the president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, to either pull
him out of that sector, or at the very least allow the proper conservation
authorities back into that region. I think that the total appropriation of
that resource is not acceptable at all, and I believe that the US has a strong
relationship with Rwanda, a strong trade relationship with Rwanda; and as a
result of that, there is possible influence.

GROSS: Brent Stirton, thank you very much for talking with us and, you know,
good luck with your continued travels and your work.

Mr. STIRTON: Thank you very much, Terry. Thank you for having me on this

GROSS: Brent Stirton took the photos for the new National Geographic magazine
cover story, "Who Murdered the Mountain Gorillas?" You can see Stirton's
photos on our Web site,, where you can also download podcasts
of our show.

Coming up, Kevin Whitehead reviews a new CD saluting Keith Jarrett by George
Schuller. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Kevin Whitehead on George Schuller's quintet Circle Wide
and their new album "Like Before, Somewhat After"

Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says he's heartened by a recent movement on the
part of musicians, bloggers and critics to rehabilitate the much-maligned jazz
of the 1970s. A case in point, Kevin says, is the new album from drummer
George Schuller saluting pianist Keith Jarrett's American Quartet of the '70s.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. KEVIN WHITEHEAD: Here's George Schuller's idea in a nutshell: Play some
of those catchy tunes Keith Jarrett wrote in the 1970s and play that pianist's
music without a piano; and then, without advertising it or putting on platform
shoes, playing it all in a '70s kind of way.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WHITEHEAD: George Schuller's quintet is called Circle Wide, which could
describe their breezy approach to playing tunes that have a way of looping
back on themselves. It's especially nice to hear them now that composer
Jarrett doesn't play them anymore. Schuller's tribute album is called "Like
Before, Somewhat After."

Keith Jarrett wrote his tunes here for his 1970s American Quartet, and
sometimes tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin and bassist Dave Ambrosio take on
the roles of the Jarrett band's Dewey Redman and Charlie Haden.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WHITEHEAD: Arranging this material, George Schuller considers the
broader context of Keith Jarrett's American Quartet--the icy new Scandinavian
jazz announced by members of his other European quartet of the '70s, and the
pianist's occasional collaboration with percussionists, guitarist Sam Brown
and vibist Gary Burton, all but channeled here by Tom Beckham. Schuller also
wrote a couple of tunes that aim for Jarrett's easy grace.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WHITEHEAD: That's the band's secret weapon, the crafty, creative and
very versatile guitarist Brad Shepik. He gets plenty of play and often steals
the show. Shepik slides into the guitar universe of '70s icons like John
McLaughlin and Norway's Terje Rypdal, with their echoes of the north Indian

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WHITEHEAD: George Schuller's crew evokes soloists of the time to honor
an undervalued period in jazz, which did have its excesses, like the odd,
endless ending. They have a little fun with '70s shticks without spoiling a
joke by calling attention to it.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead teaches English and American Studies at the University
of Kansas, and he's a jazz columnist for He reviewed Circle Wide,
the new CD by drummer George Schuller's quintet.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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