The Women Who Protect Mountain Gorillas
You’ve probably heard of Virunga National Park. The WWF recently ran a successful campaign to prevent UK oil company Soco from its oil explorations in the area and its been the subject of various documentaries. Nestled in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Virunga National Park is a wealth of biodiversity and minerals making it one of the most deadly national parks in the world.
The DRC has been plagued by Civil War since the early 1990’s which has seen 5.5 million people perish. Anyone involved in wildlife conservation will be aware that social upheaval and conflict makes protecting unique ecosystems and populations of species incredibly hard. In 2012 the Okapi Conservation Center in the DRC was attacked by rebel militia in retaliation for the organisations work against poaching; they killed six people and 14 okapi whilst causing tens of thousands of pounds of damage.
With its 3,000 square miles of grasslands, forests, volcanoes and snowields Virunga National Park not only homes more than a quarter of the planets mountain gorillas but also various militia groups including members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a rebel militia founded by the ethnic Hutu perpetrators of Rwanda’s 1994 deadly genocide. Since 1996, 150 Virunga rangers have been killed protecting the park, thus being a ranger in Virunga’s paramilitary conservation brigade is one of the most prestigious jobs in Eastern Congo.
Until 2014 no women had passed the selection process and training regime. No concessions are made, they are trained just as hard as their male counterparts and it appears they thrive on this. Sleeping in the open alongside their Kalishnikovs the trainees learn battle-zone tactics and remote survival techniques all of which will protect them from the dangers of what lies within the park.
The conservation brigade now consists of 14 pioneering female rangers, working with their male colleagues. They work up to 24 hour shifts, guarding visitors and tourists and patrolling the park. Upon their shoulders rests grave responsibility as they not only keep visitors safe but also the vital biodiversity of the area.
Featured Image by Monique Jaques for National Geographic
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