The new Virunga film is getting incredible reviews and is a powerful story of an element often overlooked in conservation – the people.

It manages to shine a light on this desperately complex and beautiful part of Africa. In particular the political, social and economic forces at work in a region that despite the troubled history of the park, shows a handful of inspiring individuals trying to make a difference. Thankfully, it does not preach but allows the drama and personal tales to speak for themselves, gripping as it is from start to finish.

I have been lucky enough over the years to visit Eastern Congo and the Virunga National Park and as striking as the park and wildlife is, the people are what I remember the most. The hotel owner who has stayed throughout the troubles to ensure a safe haven for travellers, correspondents and members of various NGOs (not to his rare collection of orchids, which he guarded with a shotgun, whilst soldiers raided his wine cellar) – he is still there now. The park rangers who worked without pay, taking me and a handful of tourists gorilla trekking in the Virunga Mountains, not knowing if or when they would receive their next salary, staying on for passion for wildlife conservation instilled by their fathers, in whose footsteps there were proudly following. I was also fortunate enough to be invited to meet the then head of UN operations in the Eastern Congo at the UN camp HQ, who gave me a frank and surprisingly honest account of the challenges he and everyone else faced in a region which everyone seems to have an opinion on, but very few people know.

In many ways, the Virunga movie is a continuation of this, a chance to understand more about a region that has long been forgotten and frequently misunderstood and the people fighting every day to make a difference.

Thanks for reading

Chris Johnston

Author: Chris Johnston