Last night I attended the world premiere screening of National Geographic Channel's newest film, Explorer: Gorilla Murders. The images from the film are burned on my brain and the story National Geographic tells is unforgettable.
You are probably now familiar with the infamous photographs of seven endangered mountain gorillas laying dead in a row in the Virunga National Park of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Those images outraged the world, but the story behind them is as stirring as anything you'd read in a novel and National Geographic tells it perfectly in this film.
Virunga National Park is ground zero for a dangerous clash between human interests and the natural world. Right now the mountain gorillas and their habitat are the victims of this clash. Only 720 mountain gorillas exist in the world. The area where those photographs were taken, the Mikeno sector, is home to around 200 of these animals and is the subject of the film.
The death of the gorillas was not for meat or for trophies, it was a symbolic killing meant to scare off the rangers who have pledged their lives to protect these important creatures. Living just outside Virunga are over a million refugees of the Rwandan conflict. The refugees live in terrible conditions and rely solely on charcoal for energy to cook and survive. Virunga is home to forests full of old growth trees that are ideal for charcoal making. Illegally collecting these trees for charcoal and selling the fuel is a very profitable business. The people who trade in illegal charcoal will stop at nothing to protect their access to the Virunga forests that are also the sensitive habitat of the mountain gorillas.
The needs of the locals, the commitment of the rangers and the greed of the charcoal makers are at odds in the national park. This dangerous dynamic has lead to the corruption of top government officials who are responsible for protecting Virunga. It may even have been one of these officials who ordered those gorillas killed.
Complicating this environment is a group of Tutsi rebels who have managed to drive the rangers out of the Mikeno sector and are now the only people with access to the 200 mountain gorillas living there. The rebels' leader, Laurent Nkunda, is a dangerous criminal known for using child soldiers and systematic rape as tools of war. He promises that he is a conservationist interested in protecting the mountain gorillas. However, stories of his soldiers killing the gorillas for food have already spread throughout the area.
Watch this film and see the fascinating story in stunning photographs, compelling interviews and interesting facts. The access National Geographic gained to both the ongoing investigation and the parties involved is amazing. If you were affected by those awful pictures of these murdered mountain gorillas, you have to hear the story behind the crime.
The movie premiers on the National Geographic Channel on Tuesday, July 1st at 10:00pm. Don't miss it.
If you want to help the mountain gorillas, go to