It's been called the selfie that broke the internet and the "selfie of the year": a man with two young mountain gorillas standing on their hind legs as if they were posing with another man in the background.
The photo, like the monkey selfie that went viral several years ago, has been bringing smiles to peoples faces all around the world. But while the picture is beautiful, the story behind the photo is not nearly as pretty. Mathieu and Patrick — the two in the photo — are caregivers at Senkwekwe Center in Virunga National Park. And they help to care for orphaned gorillas like the ones striking a pose in the photo. Ndakazi and Ndeze — the two female gorillas in the shot — were just a few months old when they were rescued by park officials and brought into the center to be cared for and live out their lives.
Virunga is a legendary national park, the oldest in Africa, and also one of the most dangerous, and not just for the mountain gorilla, but for the brave rangers that walk the bush, armed with guns ready to defend the parks vulnerable wildlife. In fact, in 2018 5 rangers were killed in an ambush and since 1996, 130 rangers have lost their lives in the line of duty.
The gorillas of Virunga National Park also have a target on their silverbacks. They face a plethora of threats including habitat loss. But their most serious threat is that of poachers who have ravaged the population. Gorillas are prized for their bushmeat, the supposed medicinal properties of certain body parts and some people even try to smuggle them out to keep them as pets.
Last year, after several deadly attacks on staff and guests, the park was closed for eight months. Park and government officials wanted to conduct a thorough review of park safety before reopening. But just weeks after the park reopened this year, another ranger was killed causing people to ask, has the government done as much as they can to protect the men and women who protect the park?
For Virunga to thrive, the people who guard it must so as well. Their safety must be a priority and both local and foreign governments should work to make sure that happens.
Please sign the petition and ask donors and partners of Virunga like the European Union and Congolese wildlife service to reevaluate their safety measures and increase protections for the guards and animals of Virunga National Park.