Mountain Gorilla in the Virunga National Park. Courtesy of VNP, 2014.

Oscar-nominated ‘Virunga’ highlights crisis of endangered gorillas

January 24, 2015

Oscar-nominated ‘Virunga’ highlights crisis of endangered gorillas

Netflix teamed up with executive producer Leonardo DiCaprio and production company Appian Way on the original documentary film, Virunga, released in theaters in New York and Los Angeles and aired on Netflix. 

The film, directed by Orlando von Einsiedel, is part investigative journalism and part nature documentary, which follows an embattled team of park rangers and the endangered mountain gorillas they protect, as they are caught in the crossfire of poachers, militia and industry in Africa’s oldest national park.

Shortly after its release the film was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Documentary category. The film focuses on the challenges faced by the park’s rangers during the recent M23 conflict and on efforts to protect Virunga from illegal resource extraction.

Among those featured in the film is André Bauma, the chief caregiver for four orphaned gorillas. In one of the most poignant scenes, André declares his willingness to lay down his life to protect the park’s endangered mountain gorilla population.

With more than 130 rangers killed in the line of duty over the last 20 years, André’s sentiments are not idle words.

Ranger Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo, the warden for the park’s Central Sector, echoes André’s feelings in the film. In several nail-biting scenes, the film shows Rodrigue facing great danger in his efforts to unmask apparently illegal activities that threaten the park.

Park rangers like Rodrigue and Andre – and Chief Warden Emmanuel de Merode, who sustained life threatening gunshot wounds following an ambush on his vehicle last April – are today the face of some 500 rangers that each day face the challenges of protecting Africa’s oldest, most biologically diverse, and most threatened national park.

“Films like Virunga are powerful stories that are a window into the incredible cultural and natural diversity of our world, the forces that are threatening to destroy it, and the people who are fighting to protect it. Partnering with Netflix on this film is an exciting opportunity to inform and inspire individuals to engage on this topic,” said DiCaprio.

Virunga National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, on the border of Uganda and Rwanda. Virunga is Africa’s oldest national park and is also the continent’s most biologically diverse protected area. The park’s 3,000 square miles include forests, savannas, lava plains, swamps, erosion valleys, active volcanoes, and the glaciated peaks of the Rwenzori mountains.

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