Virunga: Of Heroism and Love

20150129_morgan-trimble-for-virunga-national-parkA week ago, for the third consecutive evening, I was sitting in the plenary hall of the Davos Congress Center. Prepared for a very special evening.

What streamed through the space that night was not Andrea Bocelli’s voice blasting open our hearts with passionate intensity. Nor the forceful compression of an official speech, where the thoughts and emotions of 2000 humans and their multiple devices bounced around the concrete walls to create a human-electromagnetic smog of excruciating proportions.

No. That night was a special night. On the stage before us sat a man who was recently shot in the chest and stomach, dragged himself into the forest, and survived.

His crime: protecting our Planet. Safeguarding one of the world’s last intact forest landscapes. Devoting his life to maintaining a stunning ecosystem, home to the endangered mountain gorilla: Virunga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

In his introduction to Virunga, the documentary we were about to see, Emmanuel de Merode, the Park’s Chief Warden, far from even mentioning his own ordeal, matter-of-factly shared that 130 rangers had died over the past decades whilst protecting the park.

With the images that followed, it soon became clear that preserving Africa’s oldest national park, the continent’s most biologically diverse protected area, through years of civil war, an influx of refugees, in an area known for harboring a dozen armed groups with various agendas… is no small feat, to say the least.

Add to that blood-thirsty poachers and unscrupulous companies, seeing in the country’s turmoil and difficult governance a perfect opportunity to disregard existing international laws and make money from potential oil reserves under the park, and you get the picture.

But ultimately, the unethical appalling actions of the UK-based company featured in this documentary are not what surprised me most. Nor the opportunistic militias and mercenaries lost in their addictive urge for power and monetary gain. Imbalanced, self-destructive human behavior is unfortunately nothing new.

What touched me most is the beauty of soul, and depth of love of the rangers. Their willingness to give their lives, serenely, without a second of doubt, to the Planet they love. Their complicity with the gorillas, and depth of understanding of the absolute interconnectedness of Life at all levels.

What touched me is how deeply we can learn from our non-human companions. One night of conflict was enough for the sensitive young gorilla orphan to lie curled up on the floor and ultimately leave this crazy world. Had we not erected so many barriers separating us from our feelings and from each other, we would feel it too. And such destructive behaviors would never be possible.

I am deeply grateful to know that there are people out there like these park rangers. They lifted my heart and gave me hope. The stakes are high, and the environmental challenges we are facing are monumental. But as long as we each continue to stand up for what we believe, we may tip the scales back. In favor of Life.

If in doubt, watch the documentary… and keep at it, each in your own way.

Photo Credit: Morgan Trimble for Virunga National Park

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