Ghost in the gorilla mists?

virunga gorillaMost of the time, when I encounter a religious reference in a mainstream news story I can figure out what it is doing there. However, I hit something the other day in Newsweek that really puzzled me and it still does. The story in question is part of the cover package about exotic species around the world that are in danger of being snuffed out, often by insane human hunting. This leads into a tragic sidebar about those famous gorillas in the Congo, written by reporter Scott Johnson.

It seems that the gorillas are caught in the middle of another round of the hellish wars between the Hutu and Tutsis, with economic interests at stake in the lush jungles of the parklands. Killing the gorillas is one way to lash out at the rangers -- many of whom have been killed -- who try to enforce the rules of the park. This leads to the following reference that puzzled me:

One of the rangers, Paulin Ngobobo, 43, has been intimately involved in trying to stop the charcoal trade from spreading across Virunga. A devout Christian, with a wry sense of humor, Ngobobo is fiercely protective of the gorillas in his sector of the park. Six months ago he was lecturing villagers about the threat the charcoal industry posed to Virunga when men in military uniforms showed up, stripped him of his shirt and flogged him in front of the audience. Last month he posted a blog item in which he accused the charcoal merchants of being complicit in the destruction of the gorillas' habitat. Two days later unknown gunmen killed a female gorilla under his care.

Ngobobo says he has received death threats and warnings to stop criticizing the charcoal industry. Then came last week's killings, which many in his unit have interpreted as political assassinations -- a message from the powerful interests that operate in the area. "There are people who are feeding off this conflict," Ngobobo warns darkly. Last week authorities arrested Ngobobo and accused him of negligence because the recent killings all happened on his watch; his supporters claim that that was part of the assassins' plan all along. Ngobobo denies any wrongdoing.

Why the reference to the ranger's faith? Is it a way to undercut the latter claims of negligence? Perhaps, especially due to that word "devout" in front of the word "Christian."

I also thought it was interesting that the reporter called him a Christian, instead of using the term Catholic. No, I am not bashing Catholicism. I am merely referring to the fact that the Hutu-Tutsi wars not that long ago included many accusations that powerful Catholic leaders in this part of the world should have done more to stop the bloodshed or, at least, not made it worse.

And is there some link to religion in this new conflict? The rest of the story does not tell us. Strange, no?

I, for one, wanted to know more about that strange description of the ranger.

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