Virunga: How Conservation and Human Rights Intertwine  

Since my return from Rwanda, and my hopefully-not-once-in-a-lifetime visit with the Mountain Gorillas, I have been meaning to watch the documentary Virunga on Netflix.

I finally made time for it as a study break during my final exams period, and boy, am I glad I did. Because of those same finals, this will be a pretty brief post, but I hope it encourages you to do some more reading about this conflict. The film follows a couple of people who are working to preserve Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). As most are aware, the DRC is an extremely unstable country in Africa, and the fighting has killed and displaced hundreds of thousands of people. The park rangers risk their lives every day to save the people and animals that rely on this ecosystem for their livelihoods. I won’t go too far into the plot of the movie, but I highly recommend it (warning: it brought me to tears several times).

Gihishamwotsi is the beta-silverback in the Sabyninyo group of Mountain Gorillas- the son and heir of dominant silverback Guhonda. Although there is no oil exploration in the Rwandan section of the Virungas, ecological disturbance does not follow political boundaries and oil drilling would likely to cause problems that span country borders.

Gihishamwotsi is the beta-silverback in the Sabyninyo group of Mountain Gorillas- the son and heir of dominant silverback Guhonda. Although there is no oil exploration in the Rwandan section of the Virungas, ecological disturbance does not follow political boundaries and oil drilling would likely to cause problems that span country borders.

One complicating factor in the DRC is the discovery of oil and other natural resources in Virunga, and the attempts to exploit these resources by the British oil company SOCO. This is a narrative that is unfortunately becoming all too common in the few undisturbed parts of the world. Most areas of biological richness are surrounded by intense poverty and governmental instability/corruption, making it easy for international organizations to bribe their way in and exploit the people and the resources.

Another example that has been fairly well publicized in recent years is the issue of oil exploration in the Ecuadoran Amazon- specifically at Yasuni National Park. Unfortunately for the indigenous peoples and the species that make this place one of the most biodiverse in the world, the Ecuadoran government signed off to allow drilling in the spring of 2014.
One of the biggest problems in these areas is government corruption. The big international companies have a lot of money, and they know that in many developing areas of the world they can bribe their way into getting whatever they want. This opens the door for both environmental and human rights catastrophes, and that is why we need more partnerships between human rights groups and conservation groups.

If you’d like to read more about Virunga and the crisis in the Congo, you can visit www.virungamovie.com, which has a resource to check your investments for links to SOCO, as well as a link to the movie streaming on Netflix. There is also this NY Times Article, which I have only had time to skim but seems to provide well-researched reporting of the situation.

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