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June 10th, 2008
02:19 PM ET

What on earth am I doing here?


Phil Littleton
Senior Photojournalist

Sharp stones covered the ground, all the ground. Perched on top were make-shift homes. Well, if you could call them that, filled with people. And the people – chased by the endless ebb and flow of war which has ravaged the region for years. What on earth am I doing here?

It started earlier in the morning when Charlie and I crossed tediously into the DRC looking for the Congolese Mountain Gorillas. The other guerrillas – the ones with big guns and nasty habits – have taken over the mountain neighborhood homes of the gentle giants. There is no end in sight to the conflict.

Speaking with the Congolese rangers it becomes clear they are not going to see their mountain friends anytime soon. The gorillas do have a way out: They can scamper across to neighboring Rwanda where they are welcomed with open loving arms.

But why should I care about the large lumbering hairy lay bouts when there are camps of Internally Displaced Congolese littering the lava-strewn landscape surrounding Goma in the Eastern Congo?

How do we rub out this battle-line drawn so distinctly between us and the others who do not walk upright? Over the next months we will try to make sense of this and bring it to you as honestly as we can.

It's time hear the voiceless.

As always

Philip.

Editor's note: You can read about this and other Planet in Peril stories here.

soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Lujean Rogers

    Forget the gorillas, I'm posting for the Obama one. "No more tomatoes for you!."

    Well, as for the gorillas, we need to keep them safe from poachers at all costs – they deserve to live on this planet too. Anderson looked way cool sitting up there with the gorillas – a little bit like he might get up and run though.

    June 10, 2008 at 11:39 pm |
  2. Lorie Ann, Buellton, California

    Phil,
    I believe we are all at this exact moment, just where we are supposed to be. You are there. We are here, to hear and see what is going on there and hopefully how we could make a difference too. We live in a very tiny world, where thinking small is not going to cut it anymore. We need to care for every person and animal as if they were a member of our own family. Stay safe

    Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif.

    June 10, 2008 at 11:15 pm |
  3. Bren from Atlanta

    Philip,
    Bon jour mon ami! The Congolese are blessed to have you in their midst my friend. The silverbacks are a truly amazing sight to behold and I still mourn those who were massacred in the Congo National Forest last year in June. A family of four. Death comes so easily in Congo and Rwanda in these days that you would think we would become numb to it but I never will. Blood is too easily spilled in men and our cousins, the apes. The rangers do as much as they can to prevent the poaching but funding is so low. The genocide on man and beast is so high, what can be done? The West does not even know of the continuing genocide to mankind, let alone the apes. 4.11 people have died since the Rwandan massacre and the assassins were chased across the borders into Congo. The government troops do as much as they can, but they are severely outnumbered. You walk where angels fear to tread. I wish I were with you today...with all my heart. Once more with my brothers in Africa....Bren in Atlanta

    June 10, 2008 at 10:53 pm |
  4. Annie Kate

    Phillip

    Why are you there? Maybe to be the messenger that us humans cannot exploit the planet selfishly with no regard to the other species that share this planet with us. We are dependent on them in many intricate ways and we should care as much about them as about other people. The gorillas can teach us much if we only watch and listen.

    Thank you for your wonderful post and for doing PIP2. PIP2 is turning into a wonderful series and I hope that CNN will continue it after this year as well. We all need to see how other species and other people are coping with this ever changing world.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    June 10, 2008 at 9:30 pm |
  5. Jo Ann

    Dear Phil,

    Thank you so much for your very thoughtful post today. Mahatma Gandhi said, "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."

    I often get into trouble discussing this subject, but I don’t understand why some people always make that “us or them” argument when it comes to animals. Why is there a division? Unlike humans, animals cannot speak for themselves, they are often caught in the middle of the struggle between human beings, who choose to abuse and mistreat each other. Like innocent children, they need someone else to speak for them and to protect them and it is our moral duty to do so.

    I have always had a deep respect for anyone who cares for the welfare of animals. I think we could learn a lot from the Buddhists who have a great respect and compassion for all living things and believe that it is wrong for man to sustain himself at the expense of another living creature. It may seem naïve, but if we could teach all people to have respect and compassion for animals I think that many of mankind’s problems could be solved.

    As in the case of the gorillas and the people of the DRC, the plight of animals sometimes brings much needed attention to the suffering of humans. I am glad that the people are realizing that by protecting the gorillas they are helping themselves. They are also lucky to have such courageous rangers working there who put their lives on the line every day for little pay to try and protect these magnificent creatures.

    When I look into the eyes of the mountain gorillas I cannot believe that someone could deliberately and maliciously destroy them without even giving it a second thought. It is amazing to me that these powerful animals have such a gentle and thoughtful nature, although they could easily crush a man.

    In the last entry to her diary before her death in Karisoke, Rwanda on December 26, 1985, Dian Fossey spoke to this same issue:

    "When you realize the value of all life, you dwell less on what is past and concentrate on the preservation of the future.”

    Jo Ann
    North Royalton, Ohio

    June 10, 2008 at 5:29 pm |
  6. Missy

    Phil, nice to hear from you. It saddens me to think of all the animals on earth that man has hurt.

    June 10, 2008 at 5:06 pm |
  7. Betty Ann, Nacogdoches,TX

    Hey Phil,
    Gorillas and guerrillas~
    As I always knew, respect for life is just that respect for life. That is what divides the battleline between humans and other life forms. You wonder how and why guerrillas do nasty things to other humans and gorillas.
    As humans we are the great stewards of this planet. Frankly, I feel we have flunked the course, thus far.
    I deeply appreciate your efforts to put yourselves at risk to inform us and provide a chance for change.
    Whew! You have your work cut out for you!
    You and Neil stay out of trouble and remember when in doubt, reach for the gin and tonic! 😉
    All the best~and THANKS!
    Cheers!

    June 10, 2008 at 4:40 pm |
  8. anne,newfoundland,canada

    Phil:

    it is good to see you blog again.

    It is a fine line between what is happening there in DRC-not only for the gorilas,but all those people as well.

    During war,nothing or no one is safe,or spared,sadly.

    Thank you the the entire team over there, for bringing us these stories.
    I hope all of you stay safe.

    June 10, 2008 at 4:36 pm |
  9. Judy Stage

    Phil, Your blogging of behind the scenes in Planet in Peril 2 is intriguing to me. Yikes! The terrain itself would be too formidable for me. It's really great to know all of what it takes to put together an award winning documentary. We have a sense of being there from the comfort of our homes. God bless you and may your beloved angels keep you safe. That goes for Anderson too.

    June 10, 2008 at 4:08 pm |
  10. Nadene

    It breaks my heart to see what we as humans are doing to our planet. Will we be able to bring it back? We are certainly fighting an uphill battle with so many people and so many countries using up the planet's natural resources. We have to remain hopeful that things will turn around if we each do our own part to save our planet.

    June 10, 2008 at 3:58 pm |
  11. Eugenia

    Your there to remind the Americans that there is more to this world than our 9 to 5 job, 2.5 children, Starbucks coffees and that gas is $4.00 a gallon to fill up our SUV's.

    San Francisco, Ca

    June 10, 2008 at 3:46 pm |
  12. Tammy, Berwick, LA

    You're there as you said because the stories of the people and the animals need to be told and heard. We are needed outside of our nation more than I think many of us care to realize. This past year the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana (which covers New Orleans and Southeast Louisiana) took on the Anglican Province of the Congo as a Partner in Mission to help the people in whatever ways are possible. I find it ironic that New Orleans in its need is helping the people of the Congo and the DNC. Stories like yours will help spread the message that we do not live in an isolated bubble. We do not understand true poverty or governmental oppression and violence as much as we claim we do. We surely still have enough to help those who most need our help globally regardless of what our political ideology is. I'm there the minute the diocese says it is taking a team to work in the DNC. Until then, I'll just have to be an "armchair" missionary and watch your reports while supporting the diocese in its efforts to help these people.

    June 10, 2008 at 3:28 pm |
  13. Angela, Ottawa, Canada

    It's strange to think of Rwanda as a relatively peaceful place, at least as far as gorillas go.

    June 10, 2008 at 2:57 pm |
  14. elaine c, ambler, pa

    Hi Phil,
    We need to care about both simultaneously. If the mad guerrillas are allowed to stamp out the majestic gorillas, it will be a sad omen for our human race. I think we are drawn to them because it is so easy to see ourselves in their behavior and mannerisms. I am looking forward to watching PIP2. Your profound and inspiring images really do viscerally project the beauty as well as the critical state we are all in with the planet.

    And, I am totally jealous that I am not there with the gang. It would be well worth all the bugs, sweat, discomfort, and trouble getting there.
    All of you take care.

    June 10, 2008 at 2:53 pm |
  15. Sabrina in Los Angeles

    It is so sad what these people are going through.

    I thought my lack of housing was bad but at least I have a solid roof.

    Why do people do things like this to others?

    Why is money and power so unfairly balanced that the majority suffer for the few?

    Maybe as the saying going "Knowledge is power." and this knowledge of what is occurring there will balance things out.

    Thank you guys for going to these places and bring us back the info.

    June 10, 2008 at 2:51 pm |
  16. Cindy

    Phil,
    Great to hear from you. It is sad that these gorillas are caught in the middle of this ever going battle. I hope that they are doing OK and they can keep away from the guerrillas that may harm them. It is ridiculous that they may be used as pawns for them to get their way. Hope to hear from you soon. And I hope we actually get to see some of your footage soon.

    Cindy...Ga..

    June 10, 2008 at 2:47 pm |
  17. Elke, SW Florida

    I can't wait to see the 2nd installment of Planet in Peril.
    You guys are all doing exceptional good work and your blogs let us readers/viewers feel like we are right with you.
    They are lively and very interesting.
    Thanks for sharing and keep on posting those interesting reports!

    June 10, 2008 at 2:43 pm |
  18. olga in

    thank you Cnn to do this story listen i am someone who care deeply about that region i know how thing are very difficult for peoples . but my question is why so much focus on animals instead focus on people who live in camp for many years and nobody care . did you see how life is like for them !!!!!! Listen even gollira don t live in such condition .! think about it ! But thank you Cnn and Anderson for care .
    maybe one day Cnn will become the voici for Africa and his misery and Happiness.
    Olga In from Montreal

    June 10, 2008 at 2:36 pm |
  19. Michael, NC

    Philip-
    good post, makes me even more interested to look up info on these gorillas and guerrillas in your area...it is a tough situation. Best of luck with the production, looking forward to it.

    June 10, 2008 at 2:35 pm |
  20. Lilibeth

    Hi Philip, what’s happening there doesn’t make sense to me either. You ask, “What on earth am I doing here?” I prefer “Why on earth is the suffering allowed to happen for a long time? What on earth are we doing about it?”

    Lilibeth
    Edmonds, Washington

    June 10, 2008 at 2:33 pm |
  21. i love gorillas

    I wrote my senior thesis on how gorillas in Africa have been affected by the wars. I am so glad that you guys are there covering this story. I can't wait to see the finished product!

    June 10, 2008 at 2:32 pm |
  22. Jennifer - Michigan

    Very interesting blog. Wow – it must feel very strange there. It's always been one of my biggest dreams – to see Africa – the African plains. The beauty of it all has to be breathtaking. Of course, the violence and fighting that goes on there must be breathtaking as well. It's mother nature at her best and worst at the same time. Truly Amazing. Thank you for doing the Planet in Peril series, it's great! I'm looking forward to your next report. Take care.

    June 10, 2008 at 2:32 pm |