Patrick Karabaranga sits with an orphaned mountain gorilla Photo: Phil Moore/AFP/Getty Images

A shoulder to lean on

Patrick Karabaranga, a ranger at Virunga National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, sits with an orphaned mountain gorilla on July 17 in the park's gorilla sanctuary in Rumangabo.

With more than 200 mountain gorillas, Virunga National Park accounts for about a quarter of the world's mountain gorilla population. The four orphans currently living in the sanctuary were brought there after their parents were killed by poachers or as a result of illegal attempts by traffickers to smuggle them out of the park.

A mountain gorilla peers out from behind bars Photo: Phil Moore/AFP/Getty Images

Behind bars

An orphaned mountain gorilla peers out from behind bars on July 17 at the Virunga National Park's sanctuary.

As a result of the Congo's violent political history, Virunga National Park has suffered immensely from poaching, deforestation, destruction of infrastructure and several decades of wars. More than 140 Virunga rangers have been murdered while protecting the park since the beginning of the second Congo war in 1996.

Despite hitting an all-time low in 2008 amid the Congo's Kivu conflict, the park has bounced back considerably in recent years and tourism has increased to more than 3,000 visitors in 2011.

Catie Leary ( @catieleary ) writes about science, travel, animals and the arts.