The Monkey & The Fish

The Monkey & The Fish

I’ve always been skeptical about almost any type of individual charity for Africa, but billionaire do-gooders are an absolute pain in the ass.

A very close friend asked me to comment on the New Yorker’s December article by Philip Gourevitch, “The Monkey and The Fish.” It’s about Prodigy billionaire Greg Carr who according to the article is single-handedly reclaiming Mozambique’s near destroyed Gorongosa wilderness.

He is not the first untrained rich man to come to Africa to save it. Whether it is King Leopold, Sir Richard Burton or more recently, Paul Tudor Jones, I think it usually ends in disaster for Africa. There are much better ways that rich men who truly care about Africa can help it.

Bill Gates is the best example. And sorry to set the bar so high, as I realize Gates’ wealth is much greater than Carr’s. But my point is that Gates does it the right way: through a carefully created foundation that uses science, business management, and works closely with governments and long established NGO’s.

Carr is not doing such. He and renegades like Paul Tudor Jones make a bunch of money then fall passionately in love with Africa and decide they’ll go out and make everything right. Usually, everything goes terribly wrong.

As it should, frankly. What I find particularly upsetting is that the people who know better than me, scientists and managers at places like the World Wildlife Fund and Frankfurt Zoological Society, are all cowered into complacency, because they want these guys’ money. If they didn’t need it, they’d send them packing.

I have a good example of what they should do, even if they aren’t as rich as Gates.

A man as rich in his time as either Paul Tudor Jones or Greg Carr are today was New Yorker Howard Gilman. He was a good man who had to stay under the radar for a number of reasons: he was gay, he ran an international paper company that, of course, cut down trees, and he had a bickering family.

But he supplied more than 1,000 jobs to people in the Carolinas, was a responsible paper company executive, adopted Mikhail Baryshnikov when he defected from the Soviet Union and was a reliable patron of the arts.

And just as much as Jones or Carr, today, he loved Africa and he loved wildlife.

So he carefully and systematically built up a foundation which today has earned an exemplary reputation of helping Africa and wildlife.

He hired John Lukas from the Bronx Zoo years ago. John built up the White Oak Conservation Center with endowments from the Gilman foundations. John has spent more than twenty years carefully and expertly creating an organization that includes a huge conservancy on the border of Georgia and Florida, an outpost and oasis of wildlife prestige in the belabored Congo, and in the course of his career has done more for animals and Africa than Jones or Carr will ever do in a thousand life times.

Untrained, rich men, aren’t good for Africa. Africa needs outside scientists doing careful baseline research, government-to-government alliances and exchanges of aid, and mature interaction between experienced NGOs like the White Oak center.

Howard Gilman might never have felt the rush that Jones or Carr feel when a big magazine displays them as the saviors of Africa. But I can also assure you that if the next generation even finds their names in any African monograph it will be because of something horrible they did.

But the next generation will know of the Gates Foundation and the Gilman Foundation and White Oak Conservation Center, because what they’ve done, and how they’ve done it, and what will be built on top of their accomplishments will have helped Africa. It already has.