King Kong:

Scoping in on the Curious Activities of the

International Monkey Business






and the



keith harmon snow





“God damn it Preston, all you had to do is look her in the eye and lie.”


Producer Carl Denham in KING KONG.






In the late fall of 2005, the Hollywood film King Kong opened to sellout crowds everywhere. The high-action cinematography and special effects combined with the racy recycled story of Beauty and the Beast to bring home a walloping fortune for everyone involved. Behind the film, however, is a dark forest of conservation organizations, primatologists and public relation firms peddling billions of dollars in so-called “conservation” programs for Central Africa. Behind these conservation organizations, funding them, or working with them directly, are some very interesting species. As you penetrate deeper and deeper into this jungle of surprises, the landscape gets curiouser and curiouser.



The King Kong industry is very much alive. You will find Kong paraphernalia peddled at Starbucks and Burger King, but there’s a whole jungle of Kong related products on sale out there. The King Kong media machine ground into gear long ago, but by January 2006, King Kong articles ran in many print magazines, including WIRED, Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair. In February 2006, Turner Broadcasting (CNN/TBS/TNT) ‘scooped up’ the rights for the television network premier of King Kong from owner-producers NBC/Universal, with broadcast slated for 2008. Universal Studios Home Entertainment began peddling the King Kong DVD in March 2006, and there are numerous King Kong computer games.



Universal has also issued a limited edition King Kong MasterCard. “The card is part of a broader effort by Universal to cultivate long-term awareness for ‘King Kong,’” reported one Kong web site, “and with over 300,000 monthly visitors and 65,000+ forum posts to the “Kong is King” site, they definitely seem on track.”



Exactly what does ‘cultivate long-term awareness for King Kong really mean? What ‘track’ is the King Kong industry on? Remarkably, there are many real life parallels to the characters and events in the King Kong epic. Included in these are interests connected to Universal Studios. One interesting entity cashing in on the King Kong frenzy is the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGF-I). Behind or partnered with them are a whole troop of multinational corporations whose interest in gorilla conservation appears to be a front for the control and exploitation of Banana Republics.



This monkey business is very curious. We have all the standard archetypes found in Hollywood movies. There is the Femme Fatale, the Monkey Smuggler, the Mwami, the Mad Scientist, the Map, the Missing Money, the Mayor, the Rebels, Tarzan, and, at the center of it all, the Heart of Darkness. Indeed, this story definitely leans toward the dark side. It is a tale of woe and deception, and if it doesn’t break your heart it will undoubtedly leave you beating your chest in fury.



The King Kong story is pretty simple. A film producer from New York sets off seeking his fortune—in this case the production of a blockbuster film—based on a faded old map. “I’m talking about a primitive world,” film producer Carl Denham tells his sponsors in an opening scene, “never before seen by man.” The financiers are unconvinced: they want to know what happened to all the money so far. Against their interests, pursued by the police, Denham sets sail for some uncharted tropical island. This is how the movie King Kong opens.



Producer Carl Denham and his team sail from New York on a tram ship steamer, their creditors chasing after them, and they follow the mysterious, faded map until they stumble across an uncharted island shrouded in fog. Enter the savages, the dinosaurs, and the gigantic silverback gorilla, KONG. The film ends some three hours later when the great ape, straddling the spire of the Empire State Building after his capture and high-society debut, is pumped full of lead by period biplanes, the aerospace weapons of the era. Kong falls to the ground. U.S. soldiers in WW-I uniforms pose for photographs next to their most recent trophy. Kong is dead.



Seeing the cold-blooded marketing and then murder of Kong—an apt representation of how most humans treat animals—anybody with half a heart feels deeply for the plight of gorillas.






After the ship sets sail from New York in the new King Kong epic, we soon learn that the ship’s captain is a wild animal trader. Captain Englehorn is a rough, dark, mysterious pirate with a foreign accent. The hold of his steamship, Venture, is filled with cages used to haul the animals he has captured from the wilds. Bottles of chloroform roll out into public view and Englehorn aggressively orders a ship’s hand to hide them. The inference is that he is dealing in contraband, smuggling rare creatures unloaded for a hefty price in western ports of call. In the end, Captain Englehorn is called upon to use his animal capture skills to trap the mighty ape, Kong.



In real life, Dr. Patrick Mehlman, hired in 2001 as Vice-President in charge of Africa Programs for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGF-I), based in Central Africa, has also played the role of animal smuggler. Dr. Alecia Lilly, Mehlman’s now ex-wife, has played her part in this too. While these may be uncanny coincidences—animal smuggler in film, animal smuggler in real life—the already questionable activities of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund in central Africa are further called into question given the background of several of its principal officers.



In the mid-1990’s Patrick Mehlman and his then-wife Dr. Alecia Lilly worked for Laboratory Animal Breeders and Services of Virginia, Inc. (LABS), a U.S.-based company involved in the buying, breeding and selling of primates for biomedical research. The company has since reorganized as Alpha-Genesis Inc.[1] For several years, Mehlman was the Director of the LABS Primate Center and the Chair of the LABS Animal Care and Use Committee responsible for all animal health and welfare issues at LABS.



In 1996, prior to their joint discharge from LABS, Mehlman and Lilly, an animal psychologist who is also a DFGF-I officer involved in Central Africa today, were involved in the illegal and unauthorized use of painful shock collars on primates at LABS sites. The collars were in direct violation of the Animal Welfare Act and the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals. Dr. Lilly instructed her immediate staff to keep the use of shock collars secret from other LABS personnel, and there were also claims of other irregularities involving the animals connected to Dr. Mehlman and Dr. Lilly’s projects. For example, “the clinical veterinary staff was often not allowed to examine, prescribe treatment for, or administer clinical care to sick or injured animals assigned to these projects.”  [2]



According to a letter by LABS President Dr. David M. Taub, an internal investigative report “clearly shows that the incidents did occur, that Dr. Mehlman knew of, approved, and condoned this action, and that his wife Dr. Alecia Lilly actually conducted the shocking procedures.” [3]



But Dr. Mehlman’s involvement in the international smuggling of primates was a more serious issue. In June and July of 1996, LABS Director Dr. Patrick Mehlman traveled to Indonesia to negotiate LABS’ purchase of some 1400 crab-eating macaques from an Indonesian firm, Inquatex, involved in primate capture, breeding and export. According to court documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Mehlman was aware that the colony of macaques was not captive-bred, and that Indonesian officials had been bribed to get the required CITES (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species) permits for international sale.[4] Mehlman engaged in a deal with Agus Darmawan, a man known for illegal animal trafficking, knowing full well that bribes had been paid to the government of Indonesia, and that LABS would be engaging in illegal activity if they worked with the Inquatex firm.



Mehlman proceeded to negotiate the purchase, notwithstanding the illegality of it, and by May 1997, four shipments totaling 846 crab-eating macaques had been shipped into the United States, with 327 of these being wild-caught primates, in contravention of International and United States law (the Lacey Act). The shipments also contained pregnant and baby primates, some as young as 3-4 weeks old—international law strictly forbids the export or import of baby primates. The smuggling was exposed after Dr. Shirley McGreal of the International Primate Protection League (IPPL) received an eyewitness report from a person who had seen dozens of baby monkeys pathetically packed in crates at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. The primates were shipped via Air France, and the IPPL dubbed it the “Air France Baby Monkey” case. [5]



Ignoring the illegal monkeys, nonetheless the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency responsible for enforcing importation regulations, cleared shipments in Chicago and Los Angeles as “100 percent” inspected. The crab-eating macaques suffered horribly and miserably during their confinement in torturous conditions. The wooden crates included pregnant mothers, nursing infants, and some were as young as four weeks old. Blood was spattered all over some cages, and the primates inside literally disintegrated in transit. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Report said, “two females painted their compartments with blood, one very extensively.” The set designers in Kong brought the crude wooden cages used by the partners of Patrick Mehlman to life, and we see them in the smugglers hold of Captain Englehard’s ship, Venture.


At the time of the 1997 shipments, LABS had over a thousand monkeys on Morgan Island in St. Helena Sound, over 1,000 in the town of Yemassee, South Carolina, and over 1,000 at a compound in the rural community of Early Branch in Hampton County, South Carolina. Alpha Genesis Inc. maintains three primate “research” centers today. Photos taken on Morgan Island revealed piles of monkey skulls, piled in macabre heaps on blue tarps. In the 2002 article Inside the Monkey Farm, writer Becci Robbins, told how former employees said it was standard practice to leave monkey corpses in the open to let nature take its course. “We would put the dead monkeys in an enclosure where beetles could feed off them.” When monkeys died the staff at LABS would record the tattoo numbers and collect the skulls as a way of keeping inventory.


Skull Island, indeed.


LABS of Virginia purchased the primates for some U.S. $700,000 to $800,000. CITES documents were forged or altered to indicate that the primates were captive-bred, when in fact they were taken from the wild. LABS officials were later found by a U.S. court to be indirectly but knowingly funding illegal bribes to the Indonesian government. [6]


Mehlman and Lilly were fired from LABS in December 1997. They subsequently filed lawsuits against LABS of Virginia and three owners, including Dr. David Taub, in early 1998, citing wrongful discharge. Dr. David Taub, the now former owner and later President of LABS (after LABS was sold), was also the Mayor of Beaufort, Virginia.



In the ensuing court cases, the U.S. government in 2002 eventually charged the defendants—LABS and the three LABS officials—with eight felony counts and four misdemeanors in violation of U.S. law: four counts were for ‘smuggling goods into the United States.’ Patrick Mehlman became the chief witness of the prosecution, against his former employers.



One court case established that Mehlman clearly acted in violation of Indonesian law and U.S. law in his role as the principal agent working for LABS Virginia. In one document provided to the court, a letter from Mehlman to LABS directors regarding his visit to Indonesia, Mehlman states that they (LABS) might need to put a conservation front on their relationship with the Inquatex facility in Indonesia, “both for the ethically right reasons and to protect ourselves against animal rights activities.”  [7]



Mehlman’s communications to company officials describe the importance of bribes—called ‘baksheesh’ in Indonesia—in maintaining the operations of the Inquatex facility in Indonesia, and he discusses the need for LABS to protect themselves against any potential problems arising from the capture and sale of wild primates, in case they got more deeply involved with Inquatex. In this letter, Mehlman clearly acknowledges the illegality of the proposals, and the actions he took, and he warns his bosses of the risks.



“If we are going to get involved in a deal where feral (wild) caught animals are sold from a colony,” Mehlman wrote, “and the colony is restocked with more ferals, we could come under fire for engaging in anti-conservation behavior. We are violating the spirit of the CITES convention.” Mehlman’s letter documented CITES “charity”—bribes—being paid to the Indonesian government at $300 per month, with an additional $1000 per month in other “charity.” However, instead of recommending that LABS not deal with shady firms violating international CITES laws, Mehlman recommended that LABS take precautions that would cover LABS against any appearance of violating the CITES convention. [8]


In fact, in his original mission to Indonesia in advance of the purchase of primates for LABS, Patrick Mehlman knowingly set out to work with Agus Darmawan, who had previously supplied orangutans to a U.S. animal dealer convicted of smuggling orangutans in 1994.


And there’s more.


In his July 11, 1996 memorandum to LABS directors, Patrick Mehlman outlined a proposal for LABS to take over the operations of the Inquatex facility in Indonesia. For this pursuit Mehlman produced elements of an operations plan that included a chart titled “Cost of running Inquatex (sic) as it was described to me.” In his breakdown of expenses, Mehlman included “charity” line items that totaled over $13,450 in monthly expenses relating to payments to secure the first illegal shipment of Inquatex primates.


LABS was found guilty of indirectly but knowingly funding Darmawan’s practice of paying off Indonesian government officials. After a sticky situation arose in Paris around the first shipments of May 1997, Air France refused to carry any more shipments of primates from Indonesia, but LABS expressed its willingness to make further illegal payments in order to resume shipments. In an internal LABS memo, Dr. Taub stated to partner Dr. Charles Stern that it was imperative to avoid transit of illegal primates through Chicago O’Hare airport, and that bribes should be paid—“money well spent” he wrote—to insure that Atlanta be the port of entry for further shipments. [9] Patrick Mehlman was the principal go-between.


Patrick Mehlman was not charged with any legal infractions. The lawsuits proceeded into the year 2005, and trials and retrials were held. LABS principal Dr. David Taub was dismissed as a defendant (at one point) after his doctor provided a note about his poor health, though he had no problem performing his duties as Mayor of Beaufort, Virginia. The twelve jurors—carefully selected to exclude any who might have strong beliefs about animal rights or experimentation—decided that Mehlman and Lilly had been wrongfully fired and awarded Mehlman $1.73 million and Lilly $602,000, for a total of over 2.3 million dollars. [10]


Dr. Mehlman and Dr. Lilly filed additional lawsuits against LABS and its directors claiming "Conspiracy, Wrongful Discharge in Violation of Public Policy and in Violation of the South Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act.” In 2004, the company ‘LABS’ was found guilty of one count, fined $564,675 and sentenced to probation, but Dr. David Taub and the other two LABS defendants, Charles Stern and Curtis Henley, were let off.


The “Baby Monkey Case” involving Patrick Mehlman galvanized the animal rights movement. The case inspired a 1999 survey that indicated possible wrongdoing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the very agency charged with oversight and investigations of such cases.[11] According to a summary compiled by the International Primate Protection League (IPPL), “sixty-one percent of law enforcement agents employed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service responded to a survey conducted by the U.S.-based organization Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Wildlife agents reported serious problems—ranging from obstruction of justice by agency managers to political interference with agency decision-making.



Kevin Adams, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Division of Law Enforcement until October 2006, has denied that political considerations led to apparent inaction in the case of a series of monkey shipments. To complicate matters, Adams was removed from his position. He has not yet been replaced.



After reading the PEER report, IPPL contacted Adams to ask whether political considerations were interfering with the handling of the still unresolved “Baby Monkey” case. Adams stated: “Have I ‘caved in’ to...pressure and thwarted this investigation? No. There is no political pressure, the investigation is progressing, and we are meeting our responsibility to the resource and the public...Please be assured that our agents continue to pursue the investigation of the 1997 monkey shipments.” [12]



The current President and CEO of DFGF-I, Clare Richardson, hired Patrick Mehlman as Vice-President in charge of Africa Programs in 2001, even while the Baby Monkey Case was yet to be resolved. The DFGF-I position was not advertised, and there was no competition for the job. Alecia Lilly was also put on the DFGF-I payroll, but it seems that Mehlman was hired because of the relationship of Alecia Lilly to Dr. Hoerst Dieter Steklis at Rutgers University. Alecia Lilly was a research student who studied primatology at Rutgers, under Dr. H. Dieter Steklis.



H. Dieter Steklis held a variety of positions with DFGF-I until his “resignation” in 2005. Steklis worked in Rwanda from 1991 to 1993 and he was responsible for administering USAID monies that are subject to a current U.S. government audit investigation. In the mid-1990's he received millions of dollars in USAID grants for “academic” research work. In the early 1990s, the DFGF-I launched an ambitious team effort, using GIS (Geographic Information Services) tools, to “map and characterize the Virunga habitat of the endangered mountain gorilla and to provide a means for long-term assessment of gorilla habitat use and monitoring of habitat change.” The abstract for Steklis's paper, A Geomatics Approach to Mountain Gorilla Behavior and Conservation, is prominently featured on the website of a company called ESRI.



ESRI provides real-life parallels to the mysterious map of Skull Island in King Kong. DFGF-I’s Dr. H. Dieter Steklis, in collaboration with a Georgia Tech scientist named Dr. Nicholas Faust, initially directed the gorilla habitat-mapping project. DFGF-I partnered with the high-tech Idaho-based Earth Search Sciences Inc. (ESSI) and its affiliate firm, Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI), both connected to a defense and intelligence company called Oracle. ESRI has worked in the defense sector for years, initially focused on supporting defense mapping organizations and advanced terrain analysis and other cartographic military necessities for military base development. “Now as a result of Congressional mandate,” said expert John Day in Military Geospatial Technology, “technology is being deployed into a wide range of warfighter, intelligence and base support programs; and ESRI is playing a leading role in that transformation.” [13]



“I’m talking about a primitive world,” said producer Carl Denham, wielding his faded old map, “never before seen by man.” But the maps of this story are not faded, and they are never old, though they are certainly hidden from public oversight.



In the affidavit of February 6, 1998, filed by Dr. Alicia Lilly in her lawsuit against LABS Lilly stated, “I am a primatologist...throughout my career I have been involved in federally funded research studying primates and issues such as investigating the relationship between behavior and neurophysiology, immunology, predicting aggression, parasitology management and developing pathogen-free breeding colonies.” [14]



Prior to Mehlman’s involvement in 2001, DFGF-I worked only at the Karisoke Research station in Rwanda, but Mehlman was tasked with expanding DFGF-I programs in the region from Rwanda into the vast forests of tiny Rwanda’s mighty neighbor to the west, the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Patrick Mehlman connection provides compelling fodder for the countless stories of abuse in Congo. The Monkey Smuggler is no fairy tale. It has a solid foundation in reams of Freedom of Information Act requests, and in county, state and federal court records.



Mehlman is now significantly involved in the massive CARPE program—the Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment—through his association with Conservation International (CI) and its head, Russell Mittermeier. CARPE is heavily funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). His former wife, Dr. Alecia Lilly, is still employed by the Fossey fund in Rwanda and Goma, DRC and is involved with an “orphan gorilla” program which is also cloaked in the obfuscations of local conservation organizations.






At the heart of the King Kong tale is the white damsel in distress. Like the 1930’s Tarzan classics written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the sassy white female makes the adventure, and her sexuality is the central draw. Ann Darrow makes her Kong debut in a flimsy nightgown and she closes the film in an equally seductive dancing gown. The seductress captures the imagination of the viewers, adding a titillating energy of subliminal sexual desire.



Ann Darrow (actress Naomi Watts), the heroine of the Kong film, is a metaphor for the real life femme fatales of the primate conservation community. A central character is Dian Fossey, the primatologist whose pioneering research on the mountain gorillas of Rwanda led to her murder in 1985. Another is Sigourney Weaver, the Hollywood star who played Dian Fossey in the late 1980’s Hollywood film Gorillas in the Mist. And then there are Jane Goodall, the internationally renowned chimpanzee specialist, and Birute Galdikas, another female primatologist made famous by her pioneering research on orangutans. The most recent femme fatales to enter the fray are Daryl Hannah and Madison Slate.[15]



The three female primatologists—Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas—became known as ‘Leakey’s Angels’ for their affiliation with world-famous anthropologist Louis Leakey. Goodall’s affiliation with Leakey began in 1960, and she began studying chimpanzees at Gombe (Tanzania) before Dian Fossey began studying gorillas at Karisoke (Rwanda). Galdikas, the third of ‘Leakey's Ladies,’ began studying orangutans in Indonesia soon afterward. Galdikas has yet to write a popular book, but Goodall enjoyed some early success, starring in a 1963 documentary by National Geographic, the major sponsor of her work, and publishing four books from 1970 to 1972. Only In the Shadow of Man (1971) was a commercial hit, and Goodall didn’t star in another documentary until 1984, or publish any new books from 1972 to 1986. Twelve of Goodall’s 13 major film credits and 19 of her 23 books followed Gorillas in the Mist, as Goodall demonstrated the poise and charisma to build upon Fossey's breakthrough, while Fossey herself did not. However, it was Fossey alone who scored the hit that made great ape conservation a global cause. [16]



Of the three of Leakey’s Angels, in death the murdered Fossey has become the visionary.



The man who kills the animals today is the man who kills the people who get in his way tomorrow. He recognizes the fact that there is a law that says he must not do this or that, but without the reinforcement of this law, he is free to do as he chooses,” Fossey wrote to Leakey.[17]



Fossey’s writings indicate that she understood current and predicted future environmental clashes and racism that would lead to genocide. Fossey’s own struggles with conservation issues, such as misdirected funding, are metaphors for current political clashes in the Central Africa region today. In Fossey’s day the conflict was over trade and smuggling routes through the Virunga Mountains. Since her murder, technological developments such as surveillance by remote sensing have introduced ethical questions regarding the proper disposition of newly acquired conservation data which can be used for military planning in underdeveloped countries, especially in the cauldron of ethnic unrest that exists in places like the Congo/Rwanda/Uganda border.[18] (Note that when we use the term “underdeveloped” to describe a foreign nation we are indicating that it has intentionally been left in a state of under-development or mal-development, at the mercy of predatory capitalism.)



Both Fossey and Goodall have organizations named after them. Both organizations have been receiving millions of dollars in annual incomes, assets and expenses. The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, until December 2005, existed as both a U.S. (DFGF-International) and a European organization (DFGF-Europe), but the two entities were, and remain, quite literally, at war. The losers in this international conservation battle are both the people of Central Africa and the primates that the organizations are ostensibly dedicated to saving. Like the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), both the DFGF entities are active in primate conservation in Central Africa, and the story of their internal war is in itself a story of greed and corruption hidden from the public which funds them.



In 2005, JGI and DFGF-I teamed up in what was called a Historic Partnership for Gorilla Conservation and Community Development in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). “In their separate spheres working on behalf of great apes,” a press release reads, “both the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International and the Jane Goodall Institute have developed the same conservation philosophy: Effective conservation must begin with the needs and priorities of local communities.”



The biggest funders and partners of JGI and DFGF-I include the big non-government conservation organizations—the “Big NGOS” or BINGOs—like Conservation International (CI), World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and African Wildlife Foundation (AWF). USAID is a major sponsor, providing over $1,000,000 annually, of U.S. taxpayers’ money, to both JGI and DFGF-I, for the past several years, and USAID has supported DFGF-I for almost a decade. Of course, USAID supports all the BINGOs.



The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and Jane Goodall Institute—whose financial resources are now in the millions of dollars a year—are part of the second tier of “conservation” corporations that might be described as “lesser” BINGOs. These include the U.S.-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and World Resources Institute (WRI), and the U.K.-based Fauna and Flora International (FFI). To appropriately denote and categorize, and for the purpose of clarity, we hereby dub these tier-two corporate “conservation” organizations DINGOs—disgraced NGOs—because they too are the beneficiaries of boondoggle budgets. The DINGOS may hold lesser monopolies on conservation funding, but they nonetheless all brandish the cross of conservation as they conquer new lands and indigenous people through questionable “conservation” activities—and an unpalatable arrogance—all around the world.



According to one USAID report, “since FY 2001, USAID has responded to the need to support gorilla conservation efforts through support to The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGF-I), the International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP) and WCS.” (The IGCP is a consortium of AWF, Flora and Fauna International and WWF.) [19]



Painting a rosy picture of gorilla conservation efforts they have funded, USAID reported that “mountain gorillas in Central-East Africa, for example, are found in areas near the highest human population densities and growth rates in Africa and are menaced by rapidly increasing agricultural expansion. Despite these circumstances, signs of hope remain. The mountain gorilla populations in Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda have increased by 10 percent during the past ten years (from 320 to approximately 355 individuals).”  [20]



USAID funds are authorized through the Great Apes Conservation Act passed by the U.S. Congress. DFGF-I’s partnership with Conservation International, through their Global Conservation Fund and the USAID-funded Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE), was itself a three-year funding package worth over $3 million to DFGF-I.



The partnership between Jane Goodall Institute and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International “is part of a multimillion dollar initiative by Conservation International and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International to protect a 7.4 million-acre conservation corridor in the eastern region of the DRC,” reported the Jane Goodall Institute in 2005. “Stretching from Maiko National Park and the Tayna Gorilla Reserve to the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, the corridor is home to about 5,000 remaining eastern lowland gorillas and 10,000 chimpanzees.” [21]



It is also a corridor of despair, devastation and death cast upon the uncivilized savages who have the audacity to continue living in the land of the leviathan Kong. The swath of eastern forests in Congo is drenched in blood, and the contemporary survivors of “conservation” and “development” languish in lasting testimony to the legacy of 100 years of Leopoldian lust.






Hollywood stars are always good partners: they can say or do anything they want and still win votes and sympathy. Three-time Oscar nominee Sigourney Weaver is the Honorary Chair of the Board Trustees of the DFGF-I, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. Weaver recently visited Rwanda for the first time since the late 1980’s shooting for the film Gorillas in the Mist. On October 19, 2005 the DFGF-I announced their co-sponsorship, with Animal Planet and the BBC’s Natural History Unit, for the production of a new documentary titled Gorillas Revisited with Sigourney Weaver. The film aired on Animal Planet on June 25, 2006. [22]



“The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International has a unique connection to Universal Pictures’ King Kong,” the DFGF-I press release said—in a major understatement of their corporate collaboration. “To prepare for his role as King Kong, Andy Serkis studied gorilla behavior at the world famous Dian Fossey Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda.”  [23]



Andy Serkis, the actor who played Gollum in Lord of the Rings, is King Kong himself. Serkis became a board member of the DFGF-I in December 2005, after traveling with DFGF-I gorilla expert Dr. Tara Stoinski to study the behavior of silverback gorillas at the London Zoo and at the Karisoke Research Station in Rwanda. Sources in Rwanda complain that Serkis was reportedly given ready access to three research groups of gorillas—the “Pablo”, “Shinda” and “Beetsme” groups—that are restricted from visitations with anyone not of moneyed or celebrity status. The Office of Rwanda Tourism and National Parks (ORTPN) has five other groups that they take tourists to. Dr. Tara Stoinski, a primatologist, is also the manager of conservation partnerships for Zoo Atlanta, where DFGF-I is based, and she is affiliated with Rutgers University—the H. Dieter Steklis connection—and Georgia Tech University—the ESRI connection—and both are tied to DFGF-I interests.



Attempts to contact Sigourney Weaver went through her publicist and the producers of Animal Planet. Preliminary communications indicated that it was critical that letters to follow—revealing and/or questioning the activities of the DFGF-I of which she is an integral part—be held in strict confidence for Sigourney Weaver’s eyes alone. Responses from Weaver’s affiliates assured us of confidentiality. However, in a clear breach of privacy law, communications were channeled through DFGF-I, and it is not known whether Weaver ever received the confidential communications.[24] Her publicist certainly did.



Actress Daryl Hannah was the conciliation prize for ordinary people willing to pay for a “$1000 a day” safari into Rwanda’s gorilla territory in March 2006, also accompanied by a DFGF-Europe staffer and adventurer Richard Bangs of Richard Bangs Adventures.[25] While recounting the trip, one DFGF-E staffer described, incredulously, how poor people stared at the celebrities as they moved through the landscape in fancy 4x4 SUV’s.



Both Sigourney Weaver and Gollum-turned-Kong Andy Serkis were on hand with other celebrities—including Monica Kaufman, Ted Turner, and Andrew Young, former U.S. Ambassador and Mayor of Atlanta—for a gala DFGF-I benefit held in Atlanta, Georgia, on December 7, 2005. Everyone who attended the exclusive gala was treated to a private pre-release screening of the Hollywood film, King Kong, negotiated through DFGF-I’s connections to producer Peter Jackson and Universal Studios. Tickets to the red carpet affair sold for $500, $200 and $75, but requests to the DFGF-I concerning how much money was raised have not been answered. [26]



In November 2005 Conde Nast Group, the popular magazine empire, gave its prestigious U.S. $20,000 “Worldsaver” Conde Nast Traveler Environmental prize to Pierre Kakule Vwirasihikya, a DFGF-I project leader and alleged assassin in Congo. Pierre Kakule is partnered with DFGF-I and Conservation International in eastern Congo through Patrick Mehlman. “Pierre is leading a revolution in conservation,” Juan Carlos Bonilla, head of Conservation International's Central Africa Division was quoted to say. [27]


The DFGF-I’s Congolese program director, Pierre Kakule Vwirasihikya—“a park ranger and tribal chief (who) risks his life to save endangered gorillas”—was nominated for his Conde Nast award by actress Glenn Close and actor Harrison Ford, and Kakule was chosen as finalist by a panel of judges that included both Close and Ford.


WCS patron Glenn Close is on the Board of Advisers for the Wildlife Conservation Society. Close was a ‘major donor’ for the WCS ‘Congo Gorilla Forest’ at the Bronx Zoo, and she is a narrator for National Geographic wildlife specials, and an ardent Democratic Party (Clinton/Kerry) supporter. Harrison Ford is a director of Conservation International. [28]



Of course, it might be only coincidental, but it might not, that the father of actress Glen Close was at one time the personal doctor of the former dictator of Congo/Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko.






In December of 2005, officials of the DFGF-E and DFGF-I met behind closed doors in Atlanta, Georgia, and with their highly paid lawyers they wrestled with the contentious issue of who has the rights to the Dian Fossey name. The meeting and its outcome remain shrouded in secrecy. What is known is that the DFGF-International directors and lawyers, using threats of lawsuits, bullied the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund-Europe into forfeiting all claims to using Dian Fossey’s name.



Early in 2006, while DFGF-Europe was coming to grips with the legal attack by DFGF-I, the Conde Nast magazines were running numerous fluff pieces about actor Andy Serkis and actress Naomi Watts (Ann Darrow), and the blockbuster King Kong epic.



In February 2006 the DFGF-Europe changed their name to The Gorilla Organization (the name DFGF-Europe will be retained for this writing). The DFGF-E would not comment for this story, presumably due to threats of further lawsuits in the event of any public disclosure of the Dian Fossey legal conflict.



“Supporters who remember the pioneering work of Dr Dian Fossey, who was murdered in 1985, may also recall that she called the organization she founded to protect the mountain gorillas of Rwanda, the Digit Fund, after her favorite gorilla, named Digit, was killed by poachers in 1978… In 1992, the Digit Fund U.K. changed its name, under license from Dian Fossey's estate, to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund Europe to honor Dr. Fossey and promote her inspirational work.” So reads the Gorilla Fund’s explanation for the name change. “Now, 14 years later, it has changed again. This time to better reflect our broader brief—we now work with lowland as well as mountain gorillas—and the wider audience the fund has attracted over the years… Now, as we expand our work to help other kinds of gorillas, being named after someone who is strongly associated with the Virunga mountain gorillas is not necessarily an advantage.” [29]



One source that wishes to remain anonymous told us: “We have seen a map of the world, showing nations in which DFGF-I has copyrighted or expects to copyright Dian Fossey’s name. It looks like a map of the colonialist British empire.”



DFGF-I President and CEO Clare Richardson apparently walked into the meeting with a collection of maps that eventually covered the walls. The maps, covering areas all over Africa, Asia and Latin America, apparently laid out—for the apparently very astonished DFGF-Europe executives—the future corporate expansion of DFGF-I. The message delivered by lawyers was: this is Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International turf, these are our future brand name and trademark business areas, and DFGF-E will not be impinging on our expanding corporate Empire. DFGF-E was forced to relinquish its claim to the Dian Fossey name and legacy.



One former DFGF staff reluctantly admitted his/her serious concerns about the misdirection of funds and possible illicit activities of the DFGF-I. The individual is frightened of the legal clout of the DFGF-I, and about the possibility of direct physical violence that could result from going public with information he/she possesses.[30]



Agents of the Western conservation cabal targeted journalist Georgianne Nienaber, the co-author of several of the pieces in this series, during her visit to Central Africa in February 2007. Nienaber connected to the Western conservation “community” through email. She set up a mission, and met with an insider named Robert Poppe, who offered professional security, logistics and transport, under armed guard, and took her into the war-torn bush. After conducting interviews in North Kivu, DRC, Georgianne Nienaber—an accredited MONUC journalist—was robbed by Robert Poppe, accused of espionage, and held and interrogated under hostile conditions.



Robert Poppe, a former Special Forces soldier from Britain, threatened to have Nienaber arrested by the Congolese Immigration Authorities, and he confiscated her video equipment and recorded interviews. Poppe derailed Nienaber’s mission as evidence of corruption became clear through candid field interviews and inspections. Subsequent to her departure from DRC, Poppe, who was angered by an internet post that told the story but mentioned no names, repeatedly threatened Nienaber with a lawsuit. The U.S.-based web site host eventually pulled the post link because Poppe continued to threaten a lawsuit after Nienaber returned to the U.S. The action by Poppe also put Congolese sources at risk, and one dedicated Congolese conservation professional received threats and is afraid for his life.



Poppe was overheard to say, “I will make it impossible for her [Nienaber] to ever work in Congo again.”



Now Nienaber’s name and cell phone number have been listed on the Internet for PHONE SEX IN RWANDA and PHONE SEX IN CONGO, compounding the crimes of theft, extortion and detention without charge against her with cyber stalking and sexual harassment. The cost of posting the phone sex listings is $40—way beyond the possibility of the ordinary Congolese citizen.



Others who have questioned DFGF-I officials have been intimidated or indirectly threatened. Claims about questionable activities of the DFGF-I in Central Africa include accusations about the misdirection of funds, smuggling of primates and primate bones, exhumation of Fossey’s gorillas for anthropological studies, and the possible involvement of DFGF-I staff in military and illegal mining activities. There is even an accusation that DFGF-I officials orchestrated a massacre of local people near the Tanya Reserve in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This is the heart of the Mwami’s Tale.



The discrepancies between what the DFGF-I and their primary partners, like Conservation International and the Wildlife Conservation Society, are reporting, and what others working on the ground in Central Africa are experiencing, are worrying, to say the least.



What happened to the millions of dollars in USAID funds given to DFGF-I? What are the true accomplishments and impacts of BINGO and DINGO conservation?



As I will imminently show—having worked as a journalist and human rights investigator in the region from 2004 to 2007—the realities on the ground in Central Africa are disturbingly different from those painted in the fundraising drives and brochures produced by the DFGF-I, WWF, WCS, CI, AWF, Fauna and Flora International, other big conservation organizations, and their partners and sponsors. Are these conservation programs merely providing a smokescreen for other activities? How do King Kong and Hollywood play into this?






Remembering the thugs in the film King Kong, some people are asking what happens to all the money scooped up by conservation organizations with links to the King Kong industry.



In 2005, after years of opaque activity, the subject of DFGF-I expenditures of USAID funds came into question. A Freedom of Information Act request was submitted regarding DFGF-I’s failure to file required A-133 audit forms on its USAID funding. These A-133 forms are federally mandated from every non-governmental organization (NGO) receiving USAID monies, which come from U.S. taxpayers.



In September of 2005, U.S. Congressman James Oberstar was contacted by a constituent who claimed that the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International—self-declared as the premier gorilla conservation organization on the planet—had failed to file federally mandated audits (Form A-133) after receiving millions of dollars in grants from USAID.



Congressman Oberstar’s informal inquiry found that, indeed, the DFGF-I had failed to file required forms accounting for millions of dollars in USAID money.



“USAID is covering up for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International,” said a source close to this investigation, in January 2006. “They have backed off their investigation of where the millions of dollars in grants went.” The source claims that DFGF-I officials working in Congo and Rwanda are using the gorilla conservation as a front for other activities. The source also provided information revealing the interesting backgrounds of top-level DFGF-I directors. “The little old lady in Iowa who sends in her five bucks to save the gorillas would freak out if she knew where her money was really going,” the source said. “The gorillas are getting zip in the wild.” [31]



Congressman Oberstar demanded that USAID produce a report on the activities of the DFGF-I in Central Africa, but as of this writing there had been no substantive action by the DFGF-I or USAID. Oberstar noted that the DFGF-I has violated U.S. law by not filing required audit reports. “I’m personally pursuing the matter” Oberstar told a reporter for the Rwanda-owned state newspaper, the New Times, in November 2005, “and have to make sure that USAID explains to the government why DFGF-I has not been presenting their audit reports.” [32]



The Rwandan state-run newspaper New Times reported that DFGF-I President and CEO Clare Richardson told their reporter that DFGF-I had presented audits to USAID in March 2005. The New Times also reported that the Director General of the Office of Rwanda Tourism and National Parks (ORTPN), Rosette Rugamba, told the New Times that she didn’t understand the activities of the DFGF-I. “I don’t know what they are doing in Rwanda. They have been here for over three decades claiming they are doing research work but they haven’t given us any results,” she told the New Times. “The living conditions of the DFGF-I trackers are miserable and yet the DFGF-I has lots of money.”  



According to Congressman Oberstar’s office, on March 31, 2006, Congressional Affairs at USAID told a House International Relations Committee staff-member “that an audit is being conducted by a third party auditor, but it has not yet been completed.” [33] Also, the U.S. government Office of Acquisition and Assistance was reportedly forcing DFGF-I to respond to all allegations leveled against them about finance and budget issues.



The “third-party” auditor performing a “private” audit is the Defense Contract Audit Agency…an interesting choice given that the funds in question were allocated for…gorilla conservation?



“The Defense Contract Audit Agency,” reads their web site, “is under the authority, direction, and control of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), is responsible for performing all contract audits for the Department of Defense (DoD), and providing accounting and financial advisory services regarding contracts and subcontracts to all DoD Components responsible for procurement and contract administration.”  [34]



The Defense Contract Audit Agency completed the DFGF-I / USAID audit in March 2007, but the audit has not been released due to the claimed “proprietary nature” of the audit. Why is the U.S. Department of Defense Contract Audit Agency auditing a DINGO conservation organization like the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund?



Is this about gorillas? Or guerrillas?



A Freedom of Information Act request determined that DFGF-I has not filed audits for more than two years, while they received a total of at least $4,693,384 from USAID between September 24, 2001 and September 29, 2004. [35]



DFGF-I also receives funds from private donors, foundations and corporate sponsors, and they have regular fundraising drives where callers solicit donations from members and the general public. Sponsors and friends, listed in DFGF-I documents for January to December of 2003, in the $25,000 and above category included: Dr. and Mrs. Nick Faust; John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; Daniel K. Thorne Foundation; Zoo Atlanta and a corporation called Oracle. The MacArthur and Thorne Foundations are regular funders of DFGF-I, Dr. Nicholas Faust ran the ESRI mapping program for DFGF-I—and a whole bunch of intelligence and defense projects—and the others all offer some interesting jungle stories indeed.



Enter Kong and the connection to the Mad Scientist.



Turner Broadcasting (CNN) was credited with a gift in the $5000 to $9999 category. Interestingly, one CNN journalist, Gary Strieker, became a member of the DFGF-I Board of Trustees. Strieker’s conservation reportage is fairly run of the mill, unless you are a wildlife enthusiast from the U.S. or Europe, who places more importance on endangered species than on human life, and then it is fantastic, hard-hitting, exclusive stuff. The theme generally relies on discourses that universally blame the locals, who are amongst the poorest people in the world, for eating or poaching the great apes or chopping down forest or having too many children. In a few good, hard-hitting pieces CNN seems to go after Asian logging companies. In either case however, Gary Strieker’s CNN reportage never establishes any connections to, or stories about, the deeper, hidden realities of western involvement in war, mining, extortion, pillage, dictatorship, arms-running, genocide, disease, or population control programs in Central Africa. Like virtually all of the western media, there is never any attention to the perpetuation of structural violence or the institutions of control and domination. Never.



We asked Gary Strieker if he found it strange that Patrick Mehlman was hired even before he was out of court with the monkey smuggling case. Strieker dismissed the questions about Patrick Mehlman and the Oberstar investigations as baseless rumors not warranting the attention of the DFGF-I board. But Strieker’s claim that “I haven’t done any stories on DFGF-I,” is remarkable, coming from a board member for the organization, because it simply isn’t true.



The public relations and media departments of the conservation BINGOs and DINGOs—like Wildlife Conservation Society and Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and World Wildlife Fund—are self-perpetuating propaganda machines. The power of the WWF in Britain insures that the British Broadcasting Corporation—the BBC—runs every WWF press release, uncritically, as a “news” feature. DFGF-I and the whole cabal of conservation DINGOS get their own free press, not only with the BBC, but even through such “alternative” and award-winning news venues as the Environmental News Service (ENS), which also runs the BINGO and DINGO press releases unchallenged and unedited. [36] ENS won a Project Censored award for reporting a top censored story, but they would not discuss the terms of their relationship with DFGF-I, whose press release was presented verbatim as news from Kinshasa, Congo. And then there is CNN, and Conde Nast Traveler, and the Smithsonian, and Voice of America, and—the premier purveyor of primate productions—the National Geographic.



On May 3, 2007, CNN's Anderson Cooper interviewed our leading Femme Fatale, Jane Goodall, on her work with chimps in Africa, and he followed on May 4 with
reportage from Congo, where his expert of choice was DFGF-I’s Dr. Alecia Lilly.



How many of the claims of the BINGOs and DINGOs are real and how many public relations? They all claim community partnerships and sustainable development, but what is the situation for the local people on the ground in Central Africa? If key people involved in primate “conservation” have been involved in illegally smuggling primates into U.S. laboratories for biomedical research, what else are these organizations capable of? Is it merely a coincidence that many of the people who appear to be running the show in the wildlife conservation community are intimate with defense and intelligence interests, and with international mining and petroleum corporations who are plundering Africa?



What is the role and mission of Dr. Patrick Mehlman in Central Africa today? People in Central Africa are asking the same questions. For example, when a local wildlife professional in Goma turned over evidence that United Nations MONUC employees were smuggling chimpanzees out of Goma, DRC, nothing was done about it. Russians and Ukrainians fly the MONUC aircraft in DRC—Air MONUC—and as pilots in charge of the planes the contraband chimp cargo was easily carried. Hard evidence was provided to Patrick Mehlman as early as 2005, but there was never any official investigation, or even an informal response. Mehlman was based in Goma, and he didn’t have any problem pushing primitive stories about nut-cracking, tool-using gorillas in the same time period.



While Patrick Mehlman began in 2001 as Vice-President of Africa programs for DFGF-I, at some point he apparently transitioned into the position of Africa Programs Director for DFGF-I. Both programs were reportedly based in Central Africa, but Mehlman also purchased a sizeable home in South Africa and is known to travel almost as widely as Russell Mittermeier—the head of Conservation International, and perhaps the world’s most-traveled and well-healed tourist—all on conservation dollars.



By 2006, Mehlman and his wife Alecia Lilly had divorced. Lilly was Vice-President of DFGF-I Africa Programs, and Mehlman was working—in some murky capacity—for both Conservation International and DFGF-I. According to a February 2007 report from the International Conference on Sustainable Management of Forests in DRC, Patrick Mehlman was listed as the Regional Director of the Central Africa Program for Conservation International. As of May 21, 2007, Dr. Alecia Lilly is listed as Vice-President of DFGF-I’s Africa Programs, but Patrick Mehlman is not listed anywhere on the web sites of DFGF-I or Conservation International.



This monkey business is indeed primitive. The environmental and economic facade begins to unravel when the influence of the U.S. Forest Service in the CARPE landscape program becomes evident. Given that funding and budget cuts are running rampant through U.S. forestry and wildlife programs, this begs the question: how can the United States afford to be so intimately involved in foreign conservation efforts? Patrick Mehlman’s flow diagrams at the introduction of the Tayna Landscape project shed some light on the wild web of connections, and that brings us to the sad tale of the Mwami—a traditional tribal chief—on the run from “conservation” in his home territory, a remote war-torn landscape, overrun by DINGOs and BINGOs, in Central Africa.



Coming up next:


KONG: Part Three—The Mwami’s Tale



An obviously frightened Mwami sits in a wicker chair in a hotel room in Central Africa. The windows are closed, shades drawn, and 120 pages of documents litter the floor as he, in a typically agitated, excited Congolese manner, tries to explain why he is fleeing for his life to another country. He asks for water—lots of water. Each time he makes a point he gestures to the papers scattered on the carpet and shouts a number—each document is meticulously referenced by circled numerals. Our cell phone is racking up charges as a friend is taking notes at the other end of the conversation as back-up to this unexpected and stunning interview. Meeting the Mwami is the just beginning as we establish a framework for further questions, research and a return to Africa with a hired mercenary as back-up. This, indeed, is the heart of darkness.



[1] According to their web site, “Alpha Genesis® Inc. (AGI) provides the highest quality nonhuman primate products and bioresearch services worldwide” and runs three primate breeding and research facilities.  <>.

[2] Redacted document recovered under a Freedom of Information Act request.

[3] Letter from Dr. David M. Taub, President, LABS of Virginia, to Dr. Nelson L. Garnett, Director, Division of Animal Welfare, Office of Protection from Research Risks, National Institute of Health, dated April 2, 1998.

[4] United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, United States of America vs. LABS of Virginia, Document No. 02 CR 312.


[6] Ibid.

[7] Patrick Mehlman letter to LABS Directors dated 07-11-96.

[8] Ibid.

[9] United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, No. 02 CR312, Jan 2003.

[10] See: Matt O'Connor, “Firm admits trafficking in wild monkeys,” Chicago Tribune, 18 August 2004; and International Primate Protection League: .


[11] International Primate Protection League, Vol. 27, No. 1, April 1999.

[12] International Primate Protection League, Vol. 27, No. 1, April 1999.

[13] Interview with John Day, Military Geospatial Technology, Vol. 2, No. 3, 28 September 2004.

[14] Dr. Alecia Lilly, Case No. 298018412, U.S. District Court, Charleston Division.


[16] Animal People, January/February 2006:

[17]  Fossey Archives. Letter from Dian Fossey to Louis Leakey, January 13, 1968. fn.18: McMaster University.

[18] Georgianne Nienaber, Gorilla Dreams: The Legacy of Dian Fossey, iUniverse, 2006.

[19] Biodiversity Conservation: A Report on USAID’s Biodiversity Programs in Fiscal Year 2002, USAID, 2002.

[20] Biodiversity Conservation: A Report on USAID’s Biodiversity Programs in Fiscal Year 2002, USAID, 2002.

[21] Jane Goodall Institute News Center, “Jane Goodall Institute Joins With Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund Int’l to Save Great Apes in Eastern Congo,” February 2005: .

[22] Sigourney Weaver Announces Dian Fossey Legacy Campaign, Commemorating the 20th Anniversary of Dr. Fossey’s Death, DFGF-I, News Release, 19 October 2005.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Email from to keith harmon snow


[26] Atlanta Rolls Out the Red Carpet for One of the Most Anticipated Films of the Year, Universal Pictures’ King Kong, DFGF-I Press Release:

[27] Worldsavers: Conde Nast Traveler’s 16th Annual Environmental Awards, November 2005:


[29] “Go Go Gorillas,” The Gorilla Organization, December 2006, <>.

[30] Private interview, Interviewee No. 4, Kinshasa, DRC, September 2005.

[31] Private communication, December 2005.

[32] The New Times,  November 20, 2005.

[33] Email communication, Congressman Oberstar aide Mary Kerr, 31 March 2006.


[35] Freedom of Information, FOI-136/05, 20 April 2005.

[36] See for example: “Democratic Republic of Congo Entrusts Two Reserves to Communities,” ENS, April 10, 2006, <>.