“It is thanks to the animals, especially the gorillas, that our forest continues to be protected…if we lost them, we would have lost something significant for humanity.”

If you’re looking to watch a documentary but haven’t decided which one, choose Virunga. Recently nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Documentary Feature category, Virunga is directed by Orlando von Einsiedel, by executive producer Leonardo DiCaprio and the winner of 23 international film awards. It is the powerful true story of a few brave individuals risking their lives to save Virunga National Park and its last gorillas.

Situated in eastern Congo, the park is one of the most bio-diverse places on Earth and, most importantly, is home to the few remaining mountain gorillas in the world. The documentary tells the story of four individuals, an ex-child soldier turned ranger, a conservationist, a caretaker of orphan gorillas and a young investigative journalist, and their attempts at protecting this UNESCO world heritage site from poachers, the military and organizations seeking to control Congo’s natural resources.

Virunga’s appeal is not only in its ability to reveal the realities of life in the Congo or its seamless blend of the nation’s politics with the national park and the people who seek to preserve it but also in its influential investigative journalism, and beautiful nature documentary which leaves any viewer speechless mesmerized and deeply moved.

What’s At Stake?

The Virunga National Park was established in 1925 and is Africa’s first national park. It was founded primarily to protect mountain gorillas living in the forests of the Virunga Mountains and has been a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site since 1979. It is managed by the Congolese National Park Authorities. More than 140 rangers have lost their lives since the beginning of the war in 1996 to protect the park.

The park stands for hope for many in the Democratic Republic of Congo; amongst the many political issues in the country, the park and its endangered gorillas are among its most valuable assets. Virunga National Park is the only region globally with mountain gorillas; there are about 800 of these animals left on the planet, and their health is at risk.

Due to these reasons and many more, there is much at stake if the park continues to be threatened. In recent years, poaching and the Congo Civil War have dramatically damaged the country’s wildlife population.

Here are some essential things to keep in mind:

– Poachers kill many parent gorillas and take their babies for sale. Many rangers have died protecting the park from illegal poaching and land acquisition, and they are still active today. If you’re not familiar with the term ‘poaching,’ it refers to the illegal hunting, killing and/or capturing of wild animals. Body parts such as the skin, teeth and bones of these animals are then used to make money on the black market. The reduction of animal populations and possible extinction is a severe threat to our environment and planet.

– More than 80% of the national park has been allocated as oil concessions, meaning that concerns for oil exploration are not an exaggeration. However, it’s important to note that oil is an exhaustible resource and will not last forever. Therefore, the oil industry should pledge to avoid this park and many other World Heritage Sites altogether.

– The park is known for its biodiversity. It contains more bird, mammal and reptile species than any other protected area in Africa. Mountain gorillas specifically are extremely rare and one of the most critically endangered species in the world. The preservation and conservation of Virunga National Park is, therefore, an important, worthy and urgent goal.

What Can You Do?

Virunga’s impact has been undeniable. Allegations against SOCO International, a British oil and gas exploration and production company, have pressured the company to stop its work on the national park. However, World Wildlife Fund executives have stated that attempts at saving Virunga are far from over, as SOCO has not abandoned its operating permits or withdrawn unconditionally from the park.

Here’s What You Can Do to Help

1. Watch the film. It’s on Netflix!

2. Spread the word. Share the film and your thoughts on social media. Use the hashtag #TeamVirunga in your tweets and tag @Virungamovie on your posts. You can also visit and ‘Like’ their Facebook page.

3. The Virunga National Park needs your help and support; donate directly to their campaign.

To learn more about the cause and the people behind it, visit www.virungamovie.com.

Wildlife preservation is essential to our planet. Raising awareness is only the first step to fighting this battle.

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