The Cats of War

Lara, a recently deceased lioness at the Abidjan Zoo in Côte d'Ivoire

Lara, a recently deceased lioness at the Abidjan Zoo in Côte d'Ivoire

Sometimes a picture speaks well over a thousand words.  Sometimes, a picture just leaves one speechless.  When my wife saw this picture of a starving lioness named Lara on the Japanese news website, she was so disturbed, she actually tracked me down at work and demanded that I come to her computer and see for myself.  In fact, she was so haunted by the eyes of this spectral queen of the jungle, that she would not let go of it.  She pestered me for days to find out how she could get food to the poor animal.

It’s not like I don’t have enough things to do, and it’s not like my wife didn’t have other things to worry about.  The earthquakes had just struck a bit earlier in Japan, and my wife actually had several friends and relatives who she would have been expected to be more worried about.  There was even one living fairly close to the tsunami zone, and worse still, close to one of the stricken nuclear reactors.  Perhaps it’s just in the Japanese character to be more worried about others who are less fortunate, even when they themselves are suffering.  Or even when the others aren’t even human.

Eventually, my dear wife pestered me into dropping everything, and doing what I do best – researching something until I understand it.  And now, I’m going to share that research with you.  Maybe – just maybe – in doing so – a certain lioness will not have died in vain.

Here is the article in Asahi, entitled “内戦の犠牲、動物園SOS コートジボワール”, which is roughly “Victims of civil war, SOS Ivory Coast Zoo”.  You can translate the article yourself, but the bottom line is that although war has been hell on the people of the Ivory Coast, it has been even worse on the animals trapped in the zoo.  The few people who brave death when they can, to take care of the animals – while people are dying and starving all around them – barely have enough food to get the job done – much less veterinary supplies to tend to the sick and dying.  Few charities are up to the task of working in a combat zone, and the ones that are, are saving people.

The sole zoo custodian who was interviewed for the article – and braving some rather nasty and dangerous conditions to do so – was using the name of an historically famous president of the Ivory Coast.  It would be analogous to having the name “George Washington” in America.  While it could have been honorific, which does occur in some cultures, I suspected that it was more likely a pseudonym.  When bullets are flying and politics can cost you your life, it’s better not to get too much publicity.  I may use the same trick should such conditions ever come my way.

Without a person’s name to go on, I began looking for zoo organizations that might have active programs to help downtrodden zoos like the one in Abidjan.  Perhaps I could get some money somewhere close to the problem.  While I was unable to find any such program, I was able to find out a bit more about the Abidjan Zoo.  There was a single humane-type organization in the Ivory Coast which had dealt closely with the zoo – a rather impoverished outfit called MAEP (Monde Animal en Passion).  Their website isn’t much, but it led me to a name – Yao Kouassi Stéphane Novalis – also known as Novalis Yao.  He not only seemed to be the driving force behind MAEP – he was responsible for its website.  Further digging showed that he has been active in the animal charity scene for years, so I knew the guy was for real.  He is also a fellow geek – and is now running an ISP in Abidjan.

Yao K S Novalis

Novalis Yao, President of MAEP

MAEP is not in good shape.  A quick read of the website will show you that they have, to a large extent, had to split their resources to save children caught in war.  While MAEP was able to educate children in better times, and help them to befriend animals, in harder times, they have simply had to cut somebody loose.  They have had to save children, and when the situation warranted, let the animals fend for themselves.

While MAEP has a donation account listed on their web page, the page hasn’t been kept up, so there was no telling if it was operational.  Sure enough, when I contacted Novalis Yao by email, he wasn’t even sure if the account was still active.  It would take a few days for him to check with the bank.  But one thing was certain – he was overjoyed that somebody out there still cared about the animals of the Abidjan Zoo.

Unfortunately, there was also bad news.  The lioness Lara – the sad but brave cat with the haunting gaze – had died.  My wife was too late to save her.  But Mr. Yao also informed us that there were still 60 animals alive at the zoo.  Sixty animals which had made it through the worst part of the war.  Sixty animals that need not die as Lara did.

He would check on the account and get back to me.  Sure enough, in a couple of weeks, he had more information.  Not only that – he had some fresh digital pictures from the zoo.

If you would like to see them, I have put them up on SkyDrive, here.  You can download the entire set of pictures as a single RAR archive, also located in the same place.

Mom and Baby Chimp at the Abidjan Zoo

Mom and Baby Chimp at the Abidjan Zoo

As you can see, the surviving animals are getting some food now.  Not much, and not enough, but it’s a start.  However, I don’t want to imply that it’s all over.  Just take a look at the rest of the photos.  You’ll see.  This zoo is really hurting.

Here is a quote from Mr. Yao.

About Sixty(60) animals are still alive.
Currently they get the support of the new authority( FRCI) ,
Simone who is member of the Wild Chipamzee Foundation, MAEP and some anonymous.

We talked with some workers of the zoo regarding the needs of alive animals.

please find bellow the information we collected:

Herbivors need on the basis of three days feeding.

1 box of bananas 20 USD
1 box of mangoes 20 USD
1 box of papayas 30 USD

Some bread, sugar canne, peanut, maize, salad, a bag of granule, etc.

Carnivores need on the basis of three days about 10 kg of meet about 50 USD

We should plan some money for fuel.
So let say that they need about 160 USD in whole for three days.
So about 350 USD per weeks.
So 1400 USD per month.

I attached some pictures taken recently to the zoo.

If you want another, even more detailed account of the situation at the zoo, click here.

So – what can you do?  Well, you might consider sending a bit of money to MAEP, like my wife did.  There is also another way to donate, described in the link above, although I have not investigated that one.

Yes, I have to admit that wiring money to Western Africa probably doesn’t sound like a great idea.  Even though I’ve checked these guys out pretty thoroughly, who knows?  Maybe your money won’t get there.  It’s not like MAEP is going to get blessed by the BBB anytime soon.  However, you can think about it this way.  Even if your money went straight to thieves, scammers, and Nigerian con men, you have to admit – if they’re in the Ivory Coast right now, they’re probably a lot worse off than you are.  You know?

Here is the bank information for MAEP.  All you have to do is stop by your bank, give them the information, and wire a donation.  It’s pretty painless.  Not saying you have to, or even that you should.  Just think about it.

ECOBANK 2 PLATEAUX: Bank Account No: A0059 01020 000025321029 15
International: SWIFT/BIC code: ECOCCIAB

Beneficiary: Monde Animal En Passion-MAEP/ Coopec Angre

I will close with some words straight from Novalis Yao….

Again thank you for your message it gives us the strengh to do more in this very difficult situation for both animals and humans in Ivory Coast.

I don’t think he should have thanked me.  Maybe not even my wife.

I think Lara, the lioness with the haunting eyes, deserves to be thanked.  My wife says that she looks very spiritual, and I tend to agree.  Lara may not know it, but she may very well have given her life to save the remaining animals at the Abidjan Zoo.

Please feel free to publicize this worthy cause, in Lara’s name.

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