Virunga's Rangers

Photographs by Brent Stirton

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Violence and Economic Tension in One of the World's Most Dangerous Parks

For two decades, Virunga National Park, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, has been a war zone. In 1994, genocide of Tutsis by Hutus in neighboring Rwanda spilled across the border, as Hutu fighters fled Rwanda after their eventual defeat. Some of these Hutus formed the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a militia group that occupies parts of Virunga. Thousands of FDLR fighter remain in the park, along with local militiamen called Mai-Mai, cultivating illegal produce and hunting protected wildlife for consumption and sale.

Attempts to police the activities of rebel groups have led to deadly reprisals for Virunga’s rangers. In March 2015, two rangers were executed in Virunga’s central sector, bringing the death toll for park rangers to 152 since 1996.

Recently, Reportage photographer Brent Stirton met some of the men and women who risk their lives to defend the two million acres of Virunga National Park, from its lowland rain forest to the peaks of its two active volcanoes.