HEADLINE: FROM COVER GIRL TO SAVING MOUNTAIN GORILLAS
By Paul Ndiho
Veronica Varekova has graced the covers of Vogue, Marie Claire and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue plus posed in ads for Victoria’s Secret, Chanel and Guess. Now she’s adding her voice to a social cause and using her passport to travel to Africa as a Goodwill Ambassador for the African Wildlife Foundation.
The African Wildlife Foundation announced recently that that supermodel Veronica Varekova, who has been featured on the covers of some of the most prestigious fashion magazines in the world, is their new AWF Goodwill Ambassador. Veronica will aid in efforts to raise awareness and funds to support initiatives focused on conserving large landscapes, protecting endangered species, and empowering local communities.
“I’ve always had this sort of humanitarian desires and seeing that they (AWF) really work with the government, with the local communities, building schools for children in Maasai Ranch, at Menyara Ranch, that to me the complexity was just something that I was just like, ‘Wow. This is unbelievable. This is not just about animals’.”
Africa’s Heartland commonly known as the Virunga region is home to almost half of the world’s remaining Mountain Gorillas. Virunga’s fertile volcanic soils and high rainfall make it one of the most densely populated areas on earth, where people rely heavily on the forest for wood and charcoal. The gorillas are found in Congo, Uganda and Rwanda. Varekova tracked the mountain gorillas in Rwanda, a country that is still trying to recover from the 1994 Genocide that left an estimated 800,000 people dead.
“Rwanda today is one of the most stable countries in central Africa and I cannot say once that I was scared. Maybe in front of the large silverback (gorilla) yes. But, other than that, never. It’s really well, beautifully manicured agricultural country and the people of Rwanda are so sweet. Super kind and really anxious to get forward and move on away from that horrific past that they have.”
The African Wildlife Fund says that these vast areas of land are essential to conservation due to an unmatched concentration of wildlife and potential to sustain viable populations for the future. In this region, there is concern that man’s closest relative is facing pressures that could drive it into extinction. Varekova says her message is to tell the locals that there are benefits in protecting mountain gorillas because they generate a lot of income and boost their countries tourism industry.
“Every time I get this question I have to go back in my memories and go to Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania which is a natural crater. It’s a gigantic zoo really. It’s beautiful, beautiful place. And you have all different kinds of animals there.”
Conservationists say that poaching in the wildlife parks has intensified recently to the point where the wildlife has been driven from their natural habitats.