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Story Publication logo March 13, 2021

Lungs of the Earth: Congo (German)

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The transcript excerpt below was translated from German. To read the original story in full, visit the Spiegel website. The Rainforest Journalism Fund website is available in English, Spanish, bahasa Indonesia, French, and Portuguese.


Anthony Caere is a conservation pilot. He is one of the many people who have decided to dedicate their life in the preservation of the Virunga National Park, a majestic rainforest located in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, in Central Africa.

Having been founded in 1925, when the Congo was under the colonial domination of Belgium, it is known as the oldest national park in Africa.

Within its 8 thousand square kilometres, the Virunga National Park embraces virgin forests, volcanoes, lakes, and savannah, all in a completely unique combination of natural habitats. The park is home to many species of plants and animals, resulting in an incredible sanctuary for biodiversity.

Jacques Katutu is the Head of monitoring at Virunga National Park. One of his main tasks is to monitor the population of mountain gorillas, an endangered species that can only be found in this region. He started working with mountain gorillas when he was very young, and now these animals play an important role in his life.

Mountain gorillas are an endangered species and scientists estimate that only 1,000 of them are left in the region. This region of Africa is the only one where mountain gorillas live in their natural habitat.

The park employs many people in the area, including 689 men and women rangers, whose role is crucial for the protection of this fragile environment.

Agriculture and mining are two of the main reasons for deforestation. According to the FAO, the food and agriculture organization, from 1990 to 2020 our planet lost about 178 million hectares of forest, an area roughly equivalent to the entire surface of Libya. According to the Global Forest Watch’s estimates, in 2019 every six seconds a forest the size of a football field has disappeared. 

Demographic pressure is another threat to the park, with a population of 4 million people in its surroundings, many of whom have no jobs nor access to basic infrastructures, such as electricity.

Many mountain gorillas lost their lives because of poaching. They are buried here, in a gorilla cemetery, inside the park itself.

In order to save this fragile environment, the staff of the park realized that they need to engage with the local community through the development of infrastructures and sustainable economic opportunities. That includes the creation of schools, roads, and hospitals. 

In addition to that, access to electricity has an important role for the sustainable development of the local economy. That is why the Virunga National Park built a hydroelectric power plant, which provides the villages surrounding the park with clean energy. Such plants — like other infrastructures that are being designed — help create businesses and disincentivize the production of charcoal, countering the otherwise inevitable destruction of the park.