Friday, November 7, 2014

1628. The Democratic Republic of Congo: Gorillas in the Crossfire

By Orlando von Einsiedel, The New York Times, November 7, 2014 
Andre Bauma, a park ranger, Democratic Republic of Congo struggles to protect gorillas from a brutal civil war.

PLEASE take a moment to watch the video by the New York Times as well.  KN

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In a national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a caretaker struggles to save gorillas from the violence of a brutal civil war.

This Op-Doc video profiles Andre Bauma, who takes care of the orphaned mountain gorillas of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In two decades of civil war, more than 140 of his fellow rangers have been killed while protecting their park, which has been home to armed rebels. They risk their lives for Virunga’s gorillas not only because they believe it is right, but because they know that the forest and its animals are the key to the region’s stability.

The threats facing the park are tremendously complicated. Dueling military forces, who have been fighting in the surrounding areas, and sometimes within the park, have used Virunga as their pawn. An oil company, SOCO International, has searched for oil in the park. Violence, poaching and human encroachment have pushed the gorillas to the edge of extinction. Accordingly, the logistics of filming this documentary were daunting: We were working in an active conflict zone with an ever-shifting front line, managing the opposition of a major oil company and its arsenal of lawyers, and of course trying to keep our equipment from being carried away by a crew of curious mountain gorillas.

For us, the gorillas lay at the heart of this story. Not only are they a mirror in which we can view ourselves, but they also represent a better future for Congo and the hopes of the thousands of people living around Virunga National Park. Through tourism to visit the gorillas (now welcomed in a period of relative stability) and other development projects, hundreds of millions of dollars can be generated from the park, as happens next door in Rwanda. Yet the mountain gorillas’ future remains in question.

While the battle to protect Virunga will be long and hard, I believe that in the rangers of the park, we can see glimpses of the best of humanity. They are true African heroes and their courage and integrity should give us all hope.

This video is part of a series by independent filmmakers who have received grants from the Britdoc Foundation.

Orlando von Einsiedel is a filmmaker who lives in London. This Op-Doc is adapted from “Virunga,” his first feature documentary, which is being released in theaters and on Netflix.

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