Virunga National Park is Africa’s oldest national park and a World Heritage site. It is home to all of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s critically endangered mountain gorillas, as well as important populations of chimpanzees, elephants, and other wildlife. Virunga has been at the center of the DRC’s civil wars for decades, threatened by armed militias and foreign corporate interests intent on destroying the park for profit. The ongoing conflict decimated the mountain gorilla population and caused serious economic damage to the park’s surrounding communities. Virunga is now in the midst of a resurgence, thanks to the park’s committed force of rangers. Today, there are about 880 mountain gorillas because of the efforts of the rangers, over 140 of whom have died while on duty protecting the park’s wildlife.
A 2015 grant from the Cultures of Resistance Network, via the National Geographic Society Committee for Research and Exploration, supported the rangers of Virunga National Park. The rangers received the 2015 Rolex National Geographic Explorers of the Year award in recognition of their tireless efforts to halt illegal wildlife trafficking and their commitment to protecting their country’s natural treasures.