The issue of environmental degradation is one that every country must deal with. With degradation come pollution, physical destruction, and wildlife destruction to name a few. There are also the troubles of diseases, sickness, starvation, and overpopulation that we all must face and deal with. Life comes down to making a living, and taking care of one’s self…or does it? This is not true for a Ugandan man named Ndyakira Amooti.
Uganda was once known as “The Pearl of Africa” because of the magnificent variety of wildlife and scenic beauty. During the 1970’s under Idi Amin’s regime Uganda was torn apart by civil unrest. It was during that time that the wildlife was slaughtered and sold, and the natural resources that the Pearl was known for were pillaged and destroyed(1). “Forests were felled and burned, poaching went unpunished—and the pearl lost its luster”(2). In a period of about 15 years Amin’s regime was toyed back and forth between other regimes, tearing apart what was once highly valued among the country and continent. It was also during that time that Uganda began to realize that more needed to be done to insure the people’s rights to free speech, and to insure that the beauty and diversity that Uganda was known for was safe. Then in 1986 Amin’s regime was banished, and free press was established in Uganda, contributing to an increase in environmental awareness and free press. It was during this time that Ndyakira Amooti led as the voice for conservation in Uganda.
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Born in the African country of Uganda, Amooti spent his life on an endless crusade to protect Uganda’s environment. Working for the Ugandan Newspaper the New Vision in Kampala, Amooti worked as a chief editor, and for a period of approximately 15 years, as the only journalist writing about the environment. His range of work went from exposing smuggling of endangered species such as African Grey Parrots and Chimpanzees, to encouraging the Ugandan government to stop the bulldozing of forests and set up several national parks, to covering stories trying to encourage education on the AIDS/HIV virus that is wiping out significant portions of the continent of Africa.
Amooti was a world renowned environmental journalist known to many as “the ape,” and nick-named the “gorilla” for his work mostly with primate trading in Uganda, which had become a major trans-shipment point for wildlife smugglers. In 1994 Amooti helped two American undercover wildlife agents carry out a sting operation that uncovered illegal trading and selling of endangered species by airport personnel, authorities, businessmen, and game officers. This resulted in a large increase in the awareness by the public, and crackdown of this industry in Uganda. It is because of this awareness that he has been honored with the Roll of Honour by the United Nations Environmental Programme, as well as receiving a letter of commendation from Prince Philip, the president of the Wildlife Fund for Nature, Knighthood was awarded by Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, appointment to the Board of Trustees of the Uganda Wildlife Authority (which he turned down), and in 1996 he was awarded the Golden Environmental Prize(3). Many accomplishments have been made by people that can be related to the environment, but Ndyakira Amooti has shown it is not fame and praise that he was looking for. Amooti’s concern was for what he believed in, and he was risking his life for it. When asked why he turned down the position appointment to the Board of Trustees of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, he said “it would compromise my journalistic work”(3). Amooti’s work was to inform the people of Uganda to the problems facing their country. In doing so, he exposed himself to mockery and hatred by those that were carrying out the atrocities to the wildlife and environment of Uganda.
Amooti used the New Vision Newspaper in Kampala Uganda “as a platform to tackle public ignorance” about the lack of infinite natural resources(6). Through feature articles, and exposйs Amooti worked feverously to raise the level of public awareness about natural resources, on his country level, and on a global level that did not go unnoticed. It was due to Amooti’s reporting of the “relentless march”(2) of deforestation that persuaded the Ugandan government to establish National Parks for the preservation of their resources, and habitat of the endangered mountain gorilla. Due to the interest by the public, in part because of Amooti’s articles, neighboring countries also began establishing National Parks to preserve and reestablish lost resources and wildlife. Unfortunately, though the parks are set up with good intentions, it still takes much persistence and care from the personnel to insure that there is always adequate protection and that the Parks are serving their purposes. That was another of Amooti’s commitments to his work. Not only did he raise the awareness, and help institute parks to protect, he worked with many people and agencies such as the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation to create an environment in which people are still working hard towards the prevention of these illegal wildlife trades and environmental destruction. It is with that in mind that I found Ndyakira Amooti very dedicated, and was able to relate to him. Though he was a journalist, and I a conservation biology major, I find that we share the same ideologies.
In my opinion the best way to get something done in our world today is to educate people on the topics of debate. If people don’t know what the problem is, or even that there is a problem, it is hard to fight for a cause, and Ndyakira Amooti knew this. Not only did he fight on endlessly by reporting what was going on environmentally, he wrote five children’s books to begin educating Africa’s children, so that they in turn will be aware when they become adults. The books follow a young man named Kazoora, who is interested in environmental issues. Kazoora learns what it would be like not having birds, or wetlands, or trees, or grasslands, or animals, through his grandfather. Kazoora’s grandfather teaches Kazoora why each of those parts of the environment are important, and how he would be affected if even one was missing(7,8,9,10,and 11). The longest of the books was 29 pages, a perfect length for children around the ages of 8-11 years old. Though I’m a college student I found that they were interesting, and short enough that a child would be able to read along, stay attentive, and learn about the importance of our environment. Coming from a conservation major, I feel that this is important to begin as early as possible, and not to solely rely on the adults to ensure a balance in the society. Growing up in California, a state that revolves around natural resources, I attended all of the Earth Days when I was in grade school, as well as knowing about droughts, and how to conserve water, and plant trees. Projects such as planting trees on Arbor Day, and class fundraising to buy 8 acres of rainforest have made me a very environmentally aware adult. Those projects shaped my future, led me into a conservation area of interest, the direction for my career. Now the hard part is doing exactly what Ndyakira Amooti spent his life doing- informing.
Not only did Ndyakira Amooti spend his professional career writing about the environment, and fighting for the liberation of animals from exportation, he lived his personal life in a manor that was consistent with his beliefs. It’s common for people to believe that pollution is a bad problem, but yet still drive a car to work every morning. Amooti never owned a car. Nor did he live extravagantly. In fact, when he was on his death bed, despite having the money, Ndyakira declined doctors’ advice to undergo a lifesaving operation, because it was not natural. When he died in 1999, Ndyakira Amooti’s will asked that he not be buried in a coffin or a cemented grave, because it was not environmentally friendly. He was wrapped in a papyrus mat and lowered into a shallow grave, so that he might return to the earth(3). He was a member of society that really cared. Though he was a journalist, he was an environmentalist. His education was not from a science background, but he used his skills as a journalist, one who can easily get published his opinions, and know that he is reaching many people, to educate people in a way that is not usually available to typical environmentalists. He was strong willed, and very eccentric. His friends described him as “peculiar and even heedless.” It was not uncommon for him to be seen talking to animals, telling them that they needed to run, less they be killed. Ndyakira shared a closeness with the environment around him that is essential to all people within a conservation field, as well as for everyone that lives on this planet. Our environment is something that we cannot live without. The beauty and diversity is something that makes our world livable. Ndyakira knew this, and spent his life trying to teach others the importance of it.
Ndyakira Amooti died from leukemia at the age of 43. His articles can still be found on the front pages of The New Vision. “Gorillas Killed in Bwindi” one states. A remembrance to the never ending struggle that he went through to inform the people of Uganda. Still published so that future generations can read about what terrible things are happening to the world around us, and to share the importance of responsibility as a whole to take care of these human inflicted problems. Just last year two chimpanzees were rescued from smugglers trying to sell them to an Italian diplomat. One died shortly after rescue, but the second was named Ndyakira, which in Runyakitara means, “I will survive”(5). A memory to a man that was so important to this environmental issue that he is still present in every day situations. He is surviving and his legacy will continue for ever.
I found it very hard to find any information about Ndyakira. What information I could find was not personal, more of an emphasis on his work and articles. He placed the importance of the issues he cared about above himself. Four years later his works are still being published. Most of them in German, Russian, and French.
Languages that I could not read. Articles from many other countries that are still aware of his work, and the issues that face the entire world. He was not a selfish man, or a “tree hugger,” and he definitely was not a follower. He risked his life, and accomplished much in his lifetime. He did much for the country of Uganda. Thanks to him there are now many National parks in place, much tighter enforcement for smuggling, and a sense of freedom for the people that they can make a difference for their environment.
It is with this that I feel Ndyakira Amooti is a wonderful example of an environmental hero. I have personally not heard of many people from Africa making such a difference in their country, let alone globally. Amooti did just that. He intended too. Being a journalist he was able to take advantage of the fact that he could access many people at once. He could send out the message that something needed to be done, and to let everyone know that something was wrong to begin with. Thanks to his diligent work he accomplished that. He was never considered extreme. He lived in a manor that told everyone that he was not just a hypocrite. He “walked the walk.”
It is a sad thing to lose a man with such impact. He was not any one extraordinary. He was a simple man that had strong beliefs. He used his ability to reach people for the good of his country. He risked his life to uncover smuggling operations, and even convinced the Ugandan government to create national parks to protect the trees and habitats of many species of animals. All of this he did when he was just a journalist. Not a revered government official. Not anyone with any power, except that of information. In a quote from Ndyakira, I think he summed up his cause and the importance of his work. “Only when people are informed will they be aware, only when they are aware will they take action, and only when they take action will species and the environment be saved”(6).
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