In 2007, Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo was a dangerous place for both people and wildlife. The park was swarming with rebels, paramilitary groups and units of the Congolese army. Despite the dangers, wildlife rangers still ran patrols, hoping to keep precious animals, particularly mountain gorillas, safe from harm.
The mountain gorillas at Virunga are among the last of their kind. About 880 of them survive in the wild, and 220 of them live in this national park [source: Virunga National Park].
Unfortunately, in one instance, seven silverback gorillas were slaughtered by unknown persons, an act that seemed politically motivated rather than for poaching. Photographer Brent Stirton was on the scene to capture villagers and rangers carefully carrying the bodies from the forest for a proper burial. (The gorillas' mouths were stuffed with leaves to prevent fluids from leaking out.) His heartbreaking images, which cast the gorillas in a near-human light, enraged wildlife lovers and conservationists around the world [source: Time].
Stirton managed to take just a few pictures before he fled the area, worried that soldiers would apprehend him. The photographs he did make, though, became famous, sparking an investigation that ended in an arrest of a corrupt ranger. And three months after the photos' publication, nine African countries passed measures meant to create better protection for the remaining gorillas [source: Andreasson].
Stirton told The Guardian that his pictures of the murdered gorillas got a much bigger response than any of his pictures featuring Congolese people in desperate situations.