Thursday, August 07, 2014


Virunga National Park is Africa's first - created by King Albert of Belgium in 1925 to protect habitat of the mountain gorilla.This documentary about Virunga has two main thrusts - meeting the park's staff who give the phrase "passionate about my job" new meaning, and examining the threats posed to the park. These threats include the oil exploration concessions given to British Company SOCO by the Congolese Government, poachers, and the various rebel factions still fighting in the Congo.

The park staff are all armed - they need to protect themselves from wild animals, but also themselves and the animals from poachers and rebel fighters. They are literally prepared to give their lives for the animals and the preservation of the park, and many rangers have been killed in recent years. During the course of the film we see rebel fighters and tanks arrive in the park and fighting taking place, which feels a bit like seeing armed conflict at a kindergarten. It was heartening to see that once the fighting was over, the first thing the staff did was head up to the hills to check on the gorillas. Men who had been shooting at people the day before were now sitting in the grass and smiling.

Andre with one of his charges
The softer side of the job is shown by the carers for the four captive orphaned gorillas that live in a special house in the park. Mountain gorillas are particularly furry and photogenic, and their chief minder, Andre, is equally charming.Taking the gorillas outside to play in the trees looks like tremendous fun.

It's hard to know whether you'll be more impressed or depressed by this documentary. Virunga is staggeringly beautiful and diverse but there are so many things going wrong in the Congo. I was somewhat cheered to see on  that SOCO appears to have agreed not to drill for oil in Virunga unless UNESCO agrees.

So get acquainted with deepest Africa by watching the film, or at least the trailer, or perhaps this piece from Al Jazeera's Earthrise. I hope that one day going to Virunga might be less hazardous than it is now.

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