Virunga National Park, situated in the Eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), is home to more than a quarter of the world's Mountain Gorilla population. That's just 300 gorillas. The park's rangers – a team of highly-trained Congolese men and women – are tasked with the job of protecting the animals from poachers, as well as protecting the park's vast natural resources from those who are out to profit from them.
Interested in the brave women who take on this role, American photojournalist Monique Jaques travelled to Virunga in 2015 armed with her camera. Once there, she followed the rangers in their training and daily duties, along the way experiencing the park's varied wildlife. At 78,000 square kilometres, it spans mountain ranges, Savannah grasslands and forest, as well as playing home to the famous Lava Lake of the Nyiragongo Volcano
Jaques has been working as a photojournalist for the past six years, documenting issues in the Middle East as well as Afghanistan and India from her base in Istanbul. Her work has been published by The New York Times
, The Wall Street Journal
, National Geographic
and The Economist,
among others. Particularly interested in healthcare and women's rights, she says "the majority of my work is about challenging the narrative of conventional thinking and taking people into lives that can alter their perceptions."
Ahead, Jaques talks Refinery29 through her time at the Virunga National Park, sharing with us her stunning portraits of the female park rangers who risk their lives to protect it.