Virunga National Park, Africa’s oldest national park, is home to an incredible array of biodiversity. From the majestic landscape that includes everything from thick forests to volcanos, to the countless animal species that reside in the park, it is no wonder it is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites. Virunga is notably home to the last remaining population of Mountain Gorilla, and as the population of this species teeters around 880 individuals, the park becomes even more sacred.

The only problem, however, is that Virunga is also the site of immense human conflict. Located in the Democratic Republic of Congo, near the border of Rwanda and Uganda, the park has seen the Congolese civil war and continues to be ravaged by warfare in addition to aggressive oil exploration and rampant poaching. In the thick of this ongoing unrest, though, the people charged with caring for and protecting the animals and lands of Virunga National Park remain undaunted. Standing up for this natural wonder is no small or simple task, 140 rangers have been tragically killed in the past few years. But with the future of so many endemic species on the line, the work that these brave people do is absolutely invaluable.

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In this photo by Michael Christopher Brown, we see Andre Bauma, a Virunga park ranger with one of the Mountain Gorilla orphans he’s been charged with caring for. 

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Bauma has spent the last nine years working at The Senkwekwe Center, the only facility existing in the world that takes care of orphaned mountain gorillas. Four orphans currently live at the center: Maisha, Ndakasi, Ndeze, and Kaboko.

In the photo’s caption, Bauma explains, “When you love them, they respect you and you may then give them order and they will understand you. I know how to let them know that everything is okay or to prevent them from doing something. I can tell when they are hungry or when they are sad, angry, happy, afraid. We communicate in many different ways.”

Just looking at this image, it is abundantly clear that Bauma has a remarkable bond with these animals. Thanks to the hard work that he and the entire park team is doing, the Mountain Gorilla population now stands a chance at survival. As with all species, these animals play a vital role in their native ecosystem and the park needs the gorillas just as much as they need the park. It is up to us all to support the people fighting so hard to maintain and protect this wild, natural habitat for the sake of all of our benefit.

You can help Bauma and his fellow rangers by sharing this post and raising awareness for what is happening to Virunga National Park, To learn more about how you can help the efforts of Virunga park rangers, click here.

Image source: Michael Christopher Brown

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