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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Virunga’ film to highlight ape preservation effort

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Virunga, Africa’s oldest national park, is home to most of the last remaining mountain gorillas in the world.
In efforts to highlight the Center on Conflict and Development at Texas A&M’s work in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the documentary “Virunga” will screen at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Palace Theater in downtown Bryan.
Rich in many natural resources, Virunga is the most biologically diverse part of Africa. However, it is an extremely dangerous part of the continent due to the conflict that has engulfed the area for many years.
“Over the past 10 years, we’ve lost about 140 rangers protecting the park,” said Virunga Fund Director Kim Chaix. “The reason why is because there is not a strong national security force that is capable of defending the region from a number of armed groups that operate in and around the park. The rangers that have died, have done so in protecting the safety of the park.”
In addition to the history of warfare in the area, armed poachers serve as an additional threat to the wildlife and the park rangers who serve as the last line of defense against those seeking resources from Virunga.
Leslie Ruyle, Conflict and Development academics coordinator, said a fund was set up to support the families of the rangers who died protecting the park.
“Just a few weeks ago, a ranger was injured by a rocket-propelled grenade shot at him from poachers,” Ruyle said. “The warden at Virunga National Park, Emmanuel de Merode, started a program called the ‘Fallen Rangers Fund’ because so many of the rangers had died in the line of duty protecting the park.”
Amid poachers and rebel groups, British oil company SOCO purchased the rights to search for oil inside the park. The documentary follows a journalist and a park warden who attempt to gather evidence that the oil company is bribing park officials. Regardless of their methods, Chaix said SOCO’s activities are against international and Congolese law.
“You’re not allowed to explore for and exploit resources in World Heritage sites,” Chaix said. “This British oil company has been, for the past three or four years, exploring for oil and attention has been brought to this issue.”
Chaix said the fund tries to ensure the park’s many resources are harvested in a sustainable manner and used for the benefit of the people living in the area.
“We are trying to make Virunga a model for how a protected area’s natural resources can be sustainably harnessed for the benefit of the local population,” Chaix said. “What this translates into is something we call the Virunga Alliance. We are tapping into the rich hydrologic resources that we hope to capture the energy and turn it into electricity.”
Ruyle said she met Chaix during a visit to Virunga and thought the documentary would serve as a unique way to highlight the Center for Conflict and Development’s work in the area.
“Kim told me about the movie, and we began talking about different ways Texas A&M can get involved in the DRC, and continue to support all the work that is going on around Virunga,” Ruyle said.
Ruyle said the movie has only been screened at art festivals, so she expects the A&M event to be lively.
“I think it’s a great way to kick of the fall semester for students that are really interested in different programs that are here on our campus,” Ruyle said.

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