Virunga National Park Ranger Bagurubumwe Chuhoze Deogene, 47, Mira Fong, 74, and Jennifer Woods, 58, died on October 10, September 6, and August 22, 2020, respectively, having in common almost nothing in their life histories except their dedication to animals.
Bagurubumwe Chuhoze Deogene
Joining the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature in 1996, at age 23, working to protect gorillas and other wildlife ever since, Bagurubumwe Chuhoze Deogene was reportedly killed by the FDLR-RUD Hutu militia, the 14th ranger murdered in the line of duty this year.
Breaking away from the older and much larger FDLR during a 2007 leadership dispute, the FDLR-RUD faction are believed to be one of the smaller armed bands hiding out in Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo, near the Rwanda border.
The FDLR is descended from Hutu militia members who fled into Virunga National Park after the Tutsi tribe recaptured Rwanda, following the 1994 genocide, in which Hutu extreme nationalists killed about 800,000 Tutsi and Hutu moderates.
The FDLR-RUD militia, consisting of about 300 members according to recent intelligence reports, on October 10, 2020 attacked on an Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature patrol post near Sarambwe village, in the North Kivu section of Virunga National Park.
The FDLR-RUD militia “also pillaged the local communities nearby prior to and after the attack,” said Virunga National Park in a media release.
Bagurubumwe Chuhoze Deogene left his wife and three children.
Mira Fong, born Mahn-Chi Foung in Taiwan in December 1945, emigrated to the U.S. circa 1970 after earning a doctorate in oriental medicine. Initially practicing in northern California, where she became involved in animal advocacy as early as 1976, Fong in 1982 relocated to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Fong in Santa Fe continued her vegan medical practice for more than 30 years. Fong also became an acclaimed artist, poet, and author of a volume on animal rights philosophy, Right To Life –A Critical Ethics, published in Mandarin in 2018.
Recalled Pei Su, who founded ACTAsia for Animals in 2006, with offices in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Australia, the U.S., and China, “It is very sad to lose a dear friend, kind mentor and incredible supporter. Mahn-Chi was one of the very few people in the world who knew me when I was a young activist. She was truly a pioneer in Asian culture, at a time when animal protection and conservation had not reached a public awakening.
“Always keen to support the younger generation”
“I first met Mahn-Chi,” Pei Su wrote, “when I started working for the Life Conservationist Association in Taiwan in 1995. Mahn-Chi was an inspiration and mentor, always keen to support the younger generation when she recognized a spark of determination.
“In 1996,” Pei Su continued, “I was invited to visit Mahn-Chi in Santa Fe, with some peers in the animal protection movement. I remember so clearly that she took us for a picnic beside a birch wood, where we ate and drank together, excited and intrigued to experience this new continent.
“Here was a woman from my homeland, the same generation as my parents, who clearly saw the world from a different perspective. She opened new doors to me, sowed the seeds of new possibilities, and I was eager to listen to her wisdom while my young life was just warming up.
“She understood the significance of China to the world”
“Mahn-Chi was kind to the core,” Pei Su said, “and although she clearly and openly loved companion animals with a sentimentality which at the time still seemed unusual to me, she also had a strong vision for her cause. It was a time I will always remember – a time when I began to feel a sense of belonging to a movement.
“Mahn-Chi and I lost touch for more than a decade,” Pei Su acknowledged, but “Three years ago Mahn-Chi wrote to me. She recognized me through ACTAsia’s fur-free life campaign, and wrote to say how proud she was of how far I had come. She took seriously environmental and animal welfare issues, and despite deep-rooted resentments between China and Taiwan, she understood the significance of China to the whole world.
“Despite her limited income as a pensioner, she began to donate to our education programs, increasingly each year, supporting the cause of education for a more humane world.”
Jennifer “Jenny” Woods
Jennifer “Jenny” Woods, a longtime PETA spokesperson not to be confused with the Canadian livestock veterinarian of the same name who has often spoken at animal welfare conferences, “started working at PETA in 1989, back before people even knew what the word “vegan” meant. At the time, the fur industry was in its heyday and abuse in laboratories went completely unchecked,” remembered PETA senior vice president of communications Lisa Lange.
“Back then,” said Lange, “it truly felt like it was a handful of PETA employees against the world, a challenge that Jenny took on with immense grace and ferocity for her entire life, which tragically ended on August 22.
“Pied” Frank Perdue
Born and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, near the buildings that became the original PETA offices, Woods “never hesitated to put herself in tricky situations or silly costumes to draw attention to animals,” Lange continued. “She was one of the first to do a runway takeover, disrupting an Oscar de la Renta fur fashion show. She famously—and theatrically—pied one of one of the biggest chicken killers in the U.S., Frank Perdue, in the face with a tofu cream pie and forced people to take a hard look at the hidden violence in the chicken industry.
“Jenny never liked being in the limelight,” Lange added, “but as the PETA head of campaigns in the 1990s, she was called upon numerous times to do national television interviews about PETA investigations and protests. Even though these interviews and debates made her anxious, she prepared thoroughly and spoke eloquently, describing, for example, the terror that pigs and ferrets felt when strapped into General Motors cars and slammed into steering wheels in crash tests. With Jenny’s help, PETA won that campaign and got G.M., the last automaker in the world using animals in crash tests, to replace them with dummies.”
Woods helped to lead many other successful PETA campaigns.
2014 trailer park incident
In 2014, however, Woods and PETA co-worker Victoria Carey became involved in arguably the most controversial incident in the 40-year history of PETA.
According to Gary Agar, commonwealth prosecutor in Accomack County, Virginia, “PETA was asked to help,” at the Dreamland 2 trailer park in September 2014, “when an adjacent landowner reported that they should see his cow with her udders ripped up from abandoned and stray dogs. He [also] complained to PETA that the abandoned and stray dogs killed his goat and terrorized his rabbits. PETA responded and the trailer park management encouraged their efforts to gather stray/abandoned cats and dogs.”
The trailer park leases also “provided that no dogs were allowed to run free in the trailer park,” Agar said.
Maya the Chihuahua
Wilbur Cerate, a Dreamland 2 trailer park resident, asked the PETA team to “put traps under his trailer to catch some of the wild cats that were in the trailer park, and traps were provided to him as requested,” Agar continued. PETA also “provided Mr. Cerate with a dog house for two other dogs who were tethered outside of Mr. Cerate’s home,” Agar said.
Woods and Carey on October 18, 2014 arrived in a PETA van and began “gathering up what abandoned stray dogs and cats could be gathered.”
Among the animals gathered was a three-year-old Chihuahua who “wore no collar, no license, no rabies tag, nothing whatsoever to indicate the dog was other than a stray or abandoned dog,” Agar stipulated. “The Chihuahua was not tethered or contained.”
The Chihuahua, named Maya, turned out to be Cerate’s daughter’s pet.
Incident cost PETA $51,500
PETA then euthanized Maya without observing the five-day holding period for unidentified stray dogs required by Virginia state law, for which the Virginia Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services fined PETA the maximum $500.
Upon learned that Maya had been a pet, Woods apologized to the Cerate family and gave them a fruit basket, but that only appeared to pour gasoline on what became a firestorm of bad publicity for PETA, amplified by animal use industry and “no kill” advocacy media.
On November 5, 2014, Sheriff Todd Godwin had Woods and Carey arrested for dog theft, but Agar declined to prosecute.
The Cerate family eventually sued PETA, seeking $7 million, settling in August 2017 for $49,000 plus a $2,000 memorial donation to a local animal shelter.
This, observed Associated Press reporter Ben Finley, “ended an attempt to effectively put PETA on trial for euthanizing hundreds of animals each year,” dimming “what could have been a very public spotlight on the international animal rights organization and its controversial animal shelter in Virginia.”
“Totally represented PETA”
Woods left adopted pets including “a big, handsome rescued lab mix named Riley,” Lange wrote, along with “Libby, a dog rescued by PETA from a laboratory,” and three cats, Lily, Sophie, and Mia.
“Like nearly all PETA employees, Jenny didn’t speak publicly or publish independently,” recalled former PETA colleague David Cantor, who has since 2003 headed Responsible Policies for Animals in Glenhaven, Pennsylvania, and first informed ANIMALS 24-7 of Woods’ death.
“She totally represented PETA, loved PETA, and worked hard at PETA,” Cantor summarized.