One of the things that Virgil Hawkins emphasized in his book, Stealth Conflicts, is the idea that a conflict is more likely to be ignored if it seems "complicated" or "chaotic" to Western eyes. On the other hand, a conflict is more likely to be chosen if it can be simplified as a morality play between innocent victims and evildoers that can be clearly identified.
In a recent post on his blog, Hawkins adds another element to this idea: if innocent human victims cannot be found, non-human ones will do. Case in point, the plight of the gorillas in the African Great Lakes region, whose population has been affected years ago by the Rwandan genocide and currently by the conflict in the DRC (the most deadly and ignored conflict). Massacres of humans are likely to be ignored, but not murders of gorillas or other apes.
First, the chimps in the Ivory Coast:
Note the civil war mentioned in passing without any further explanation.
Even when the news is good, it deserves more mention than the conflict itself:
For the record, the conflict in the DRC has killed over 6 million people… 10 gorillas in 2007.
As Hawkins states, the interest in animals has a lot to do with the usual Western coverage of African conflicts:
At the same time that Western audiences are made to feel bad about gorillas though, complete indifference is the general attitude to things like these, which we’d rather not see:
In other words, when it comes to these issues, Western media, activists and policymakers all establish hierarchies as to which humans deserve sympathy (not Africans) but also towards which animals we should feel compassion (gorillas, yes, cows, not so much).
How we decide which humans and animals we will care about and help, and which we will ignore involves a variety of factors. In the case of animals, it has to do with cultural meanings of different species, what "use" we have for some of them: the more we use them for instrumental purposes, like food, the less we care whereas gorillas are perceived as free and innocent victims of inhuman treatment… there is some degree of arbitrariness here.
Bush meat is abhorrent but burgers are not. Being a casualty of war is horrible, but slaughtered in a factory farm is ok.