• An afternoon shower rolls over Africa's oldest wildlife reserve, Virunga National Park. Two decades of Central African politics and armed militias taken the lives of thousands of civilians, elephants and hippos, and more than 150 of the park's game wardens.
  • Virunga's game wardens protect small groups of tourists who enter to observe the park's endangered mountain gorillas. A Howard Buffett Foundation grant recently added 200 wardens to re-open a small portion of the park for gorilla tourism.
  • Virunga once harbored the world's largest population of hippopotamus. Numbers plummeted from 27,000 to 350, largely because poachers sell their mammoth teeth as ivory to unsuspecting buyers. These hippos were photographed on the Rutchuru River last year. (Courtesy World Wildlife Fund)
  • The director of Virunga National Park, Emmanuel de Merode, recently recovered from being shot four times in the chest by gunmen. He believes the park will be central to the economic recovery of the entire region which has been devastated by two decades of militia violence. He posed in the park in 2013 for this photograph.
  • Virunga rangers play a traditional board game between park duties in 2007. Their primary responsibilities are protecting the wildlife. Twenty have been killed in confrontations with poachers and militias in the last three years.
  • Tours to track mountain gorillas were a major attraction at Virunga until the park closed in 2012. Tourism has re-opened with the addition of more than 200 rangers and reduced armed conflict in the area.
  • Local communities around the park responded to the threat of outside militias by forming their own small armies called Mai Mai. They often recruit child soldiers at checkpoints such as this one near Goma in 1997.
  • A truckload of rebel supporters of Laurent Nkunda drove through the park on a November day in 2008. Nkunda is a former Democratic Republic of Congo general whose miltias support Tutsi interests in the region.
  • Luxury tourist quarters built during the rule of Mobutu Sese Seko that were destroyed and abandoned in earlier violence now serve as housing for some militias. The park's bullet-riddled welcome sign indicates the park's former name.

Africa's Oldest Wildlife Reserve Struggles to Survive

Published June 06, 2014

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