Two wildlife rangers in Garamba National Park, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, died at the hands of elephant poachers last month. The discovery of six men chopping up a fresh carcass led to a shootout between the rangers and the poachers, some of whom were also killed.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Garamba sprawls over 2,000 miles of mostly forested land inhabited by elephants, hippos, lions, buffalo, and many other species. But the park, which borders South Sudan, has been hit hard by poaching in recent years as civil unrest has escalated in the region. Armed groups comprised of former combatants from the Lord’s Resistance Army, members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, and others have terrorized the park in their quest for elephant ivory and other lucrative animal parts. While it once held 20,000 elephants in the 1960s, Garamba now has a mere 1,300.
Wild animals aren't the only victims. In Garamba poachers have killed 21 rangers during the past decade, says Andrea Heydlauff, chief marketing officer for African Parks, a nonprofit conservation group that manages protected areas on behalf of governments in Africa. “The big problem is the poachers are heavily militarized,” she says. “They have the weaponry and the incentive.”
Meanwhile, rangers across Africa often don’t receive the support they need. A recent report by the World Wildlife Fund found that 82 percent of the 570 rangers surveyed said they’ve faced life-threatening situations on duty, and only 40 percent said they have the proper equipment to do their jobs. Just over half said they’ve received adequate training.
Now you can see for yourself what it’s like to stand in their boots as they patrol the front lines in the war against poaching. A new 10-minute virtual reality documentary released by National Geographic Documentary Films chronicles a day in the life of Garamba park rangers as they risk their lives to protect the park’s creatures.
“What the rangers accomplish is remarkable,” said director Kathryn Bigelow, of Hurt Locker fame, in a press release. “They patrol a park the size of Delaware that contains no roads and grass 10 feet tall in most directions.”
The Protectors was directed by Bigelow and VR creator Imraan Ismail. It was produced by Here Be Dragons, along with Annapurna Pictures and African Parks, for National Geographic.
How You Can Help
Visit outfitaranger.org to make a donation to African Parks, the NGO that manages Garamba and other national parks throughout Africa. All donations help African Parks train and outfit the park rangers defending Africa’s wildlife.