Few people can say they really know where Virunga National Park lies on a map and even fewer can tell you the tragedy that happened there in 2012. Virunga National Park is Africa’s oldest national park and is found in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Not only is it one of the most bio-diverse places in the world, it is also home to the last surviving mountain gorillas on our planet.
Director Orlando von Einsiedel with Executive Producer Leonardo DiCaprio come together to create a film about the noble fight for the protection of this UNESCO World Heritage Site and for the gorillas who call it their home. During political instability back in 2012, the rebel group, M23, began threatening the locals and the park rangers protecting Virunga National Park. The militia wanted the park to illegally exploit its rich oil resources to London-based oil company SOCO International. Resource extraction would only wipe out the Congo's rich land resources and animals.
Eventually M23 declared war slowly moving in and opening fire in Virunga. The chaos caused some 500,000 people to flee from their homes, killed innocent park rangers, and left numerous gorillas in distress and fear. Throughout all of the bloodshed, the park rangers did not leave their post at the main headquarters in the park due to their courage and determination to protect the last surviving mountain gorillas on Earth. These rangers have so much love for their park and its gorillas that they are willing to risk their lives defending it.
“We want our children and future ancestors to have these places and species in their lives.” – André Bauma gorilla caretaker and former child soldier
The protection of this majestic species is a key issue. If the gorillas become extinct, the park will disappear. Virunga is a powerful story about the courageous and honorable park rangers who risked their lives to save these majestic animals and their home. If these types of atrocities can happen in National Parks also named UNESCO World Heritage Sites, imagine what could happen at other places so near and dear to our hearts.
The documentary ends with contiuning bloodshed and greed of oil companies but the recognition this movie is given is what truly wins Virunga National Park its first victory! After winning ”Best International Documentary” in Cinemambiente International Documentary Competition, “Best Documentary Feature” at Tribeca Film Festival, and “Feature Documentary Award” at DOXA Documentary Film Festival, international environmental organizations came together to form a petition against SOCO collecting more than 750.000 signatures reaching an agreement to ban all oil drilling in the park as well as all UNESCO World Heritage sites. The park has also been re-opened to visitors in 2015 and if people continue to visit for its enchanment, endangered gorillas, and for its beauty, the economic benefits from ecotourism would eventually override that from oil extraction in and around Virunga National Park.