The cold-blooded murder of about 10 of Congo's endangered mountain gorillas last year horrified author Craig Hatkoff until one glimmer of hope emerged — the rescue of an orphaned baby gorilla.
The baby, named Miza, was feared dead as her mother was among the gorillas killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Virunga National Park, home to 380 of the world's 720 mountain gorillas.
But after several days lost in the jungle, Miza was rescued by her father, silverback gorilla Kabirizi, and brought back to live with her family to be raised by her sister and half-brother.
The story inspired New York-based Hatkoff to write “Looking for Miza: The True Story of the Mountain Gorilla Family Who Rescued One of Their Own,” along with his daughters Isabella, 9, and Juliana, 13, as the centerpiece of a campaign to help save the gentle giants that range across the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
It is not the first animal story by Hatkoff. He has previously written books about the polar bear Knut who became an icon for global warming and about the friendship of a tortoise and hippo, Owen and Mzee, after the southeast Asian tsunami.
“Miza's true story is a life-affirming tale of hope and courage. I think the appeal of this story is that gorillas are about 98 percent human from a genetic standpoint and it is like we are looking into a mirror at ourselves,” Hatkoff told Reuters.
“My guess is you could put a name, face and nose print to every mountain gorilla left on the planet and it becomes a powerful metaphor because if we can't save the mountain gorillas what does it say about the other species we have to save.”
Campaigning for gorillas
Hatkoff wants to use the book, released this week by Scholastic, as a centerpiece of a campaign to raise awareness about the endangered mountain gorillas and help the people living in the Great Lakes area of Africa.
“This is a war-torn area of the world and the loss of habitat and economic problems like the charcoal mafia have created a crisis,” said Hatkoff.
“This is not longer just about saving the gorillas but we have to save the people there too who need clean water, food security, education and health care. These are complicated problems but they are solvable.”
His company Turtle Pond Publications has joined forces with Scholastic, Wildlife Direct, the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative founded by Bill Clinton to raise awareness about Africa's endangered mountain gorillas.
The book will be at the core of the campaign with a children's summit on gorillas with U.S.-wide webcast planned and websites to get people involved and show how they can help.
“These true stories can create an emotional connection to real animals and the idea here is to say what you can do about it and you can become part of the story,” said Hatkoff.
“Mountain gorillas must be the most magnificent species on the planet and if this campaign works, it will work for tigers, for people as well.”