“You must justify why you are on this earth. Gorillas justify why I am here. They are my life. In 2007, poachers killed nine gorillas in one family. I was among the rangers who discovered their bodies. It was a great tragedy. This is Ndakasi, one of the baby gorillas that survived. The logic was that once the gorillas were killed, there would be no reason to protect the park anymore. Many people left the area during the war, but I felt obliged to stay here. I will die for the gorillas. I love all four orphan gorillas, but Ndakasi loves me a lot, and just wants to hug me all the time.”
– picture of Andre Bauma, one of the rangers at the Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage in Virunga National Park, with Ndakasi, a female gorilla, one of four gorilla orphans that have been rescued from poachers.
Created in 1925, Virunga National Park was the first ever national park in Africa. Located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, this UNESCO world heritage site is home to the critically endangered mountain gorillas. Along with its rich wildlife, the park has the popular Mount Nyiragongo stratovolcano, where you can hike to the top for a rewarding view of molten lava of the world’s largest lava lake.
Currently, our planet is home to about 800 mountain gorillas. Listed endangered by the IUCN, mountain gorillas are found in high elevated mountains, between 2400m and 4000m. It is a subspecies of the eastern gorilla that can grow as high as 6 feet (1.8m) and live upto 35 years. Mostly found in the verdant volcanic slopes of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, you can encounter mountain gorillas on a gorilla trekking tour in these countries.
Ndakasi’s favourite foods are porridge, carrots and cucumbers. She is an avid housekeeper and regularly assists with the daily clean up of sleeping quarters at Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage. Whilst others are on the lookout for food, Ndakisi is rummaging around for a log or the likes to try and make her daily escape. She can become quite all consumed with plans of her escape – all of this in an attempt to satisfy her insatiable appetite for watching all things human related, be it a mechanic changing a tyre or a truck driving by.
Virunga has had an old association with various rebel groups. Numerous incidents of armed conflict have been seen in the past few decades. In 2018 itself, the kidnapping of two British tourists (later released unharmed) caused the park to close for 8 months. Illegal charcoal production, smuggling and wildlife poaching are the other big issues in Virunga. Poaching has been a big threat to the endangered mountain gorillas and poachers believe they can kill the parent (of baby gorillas) and take the child away for sale.
There are only 800 mountain gorillas left in Africa, all of them restricted to the Virunga Mountains. More than 150 park rangers have died in ten years, protecting Virunga from poachers, rebel groups and corrupt army soldiers.
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