Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads


#SteveReviews: Virunga

If the title of this moving documentary film didn’t already give it away, it’s main focus is the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect in the beginning, like most I knew that it must feature civil war and the mountain gorillas that Virunga is known for. Packed in with that is a storm of further turmoil and foreign companies trying to exploit the DRC’s wealth of natural resources. It’s clear from the outset that Congo’s colonial past and catastrophes such as the Rwandan Genocide have all helped to fuel the political instability within the country. This makes it extremely hard to carry out important conservation work, as well as creating an unsafe work environment.

Time has not been kind to the DRC, despite a peace treaty being signed in 2003 and the first democratic elections in 2006, life hasn’t got any easier. As a conservationist one of the most important facts that you need to realise is that more (if not all) conservation problems are people problems. You should involve local people (where possible) and try to work through the issue(s) in order to come to a resolution. Whether this be through education or alternative livelihoods, there are solutions to most problems. However Congo is trapped in a cycle of stability and unrest which doesn’t have a simple and quick fix.

Congo has been an easy target for a long time because of it’s instability. It has large amounts of copper, gold, diamonds, cobalt, uranium and oil which should have made it one of the richest countries in Africa. However exploration from foreign companies such as SOCO (which is highlighted in Virunga) has meant that the wealth from these minerals has left the country. A consequence of this is that nowhere is safe. The Virunga National Park provides safety for some of the world’s last mountain gorillas as well as other wildlife such as elephants and hippos. This rich ecosystem is vulnerable due to it’s location and the fact that oil deposits sit within it’s boundaries.

The one thing I like about this documentary film is like The Ivory Game, it doesn’t just tell you – it shows you. The director makes sure the camera is in the right place at the right to capture moments of joy, moments of sadness and moments of tragic loss. This gives Virunga a strong narrative and conservation message, due to the ongoing unrest rangers are putting their lives in danger every time they go to work. It is clear that they have a deep emotional connection with gorillas and why shouldn’t they? They are one of our closest living relatives (evolutionary speaking) and so you can see a lot of humanity in their eyes. Let’s hope that the hard work of these brave individuals continues to pay off and that the Virunga National Park stands for decades to come.

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