Virunga National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Virunga National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

2017
07.31.2018
Rangers Project
On #WorldRangerDay, we are so proud of the efforts of our rangers, who show dedication and resilience, despite the dangers they face.

Explore RANGERS PROJECT

Group 2 Created with Sketch.
07.22.2018
Ephrem Balole, Manager of Virunga SARL, receives his PhD
Congratulations to Ephrem Balole, Manager of Virunga SARL, who received his PhD from the University of Kinshasa last week! Ephrem has been r...

Explore EPHREM BALOLE, MANAGER OF VIRUNGA SARL, RECEIVES HIS PHD

Group 2 Created with Sketch.
06.06.2018
Rangers Project
We are so proud that Jolie, one of Virunga’s female rangers, shared her story of what motivated her to become a ranger at the European Devel...

Explore RANGERS PROJECT

Group 2 Created with Sketch.
06.05.2018
Fallen Rangers Project
Representatives from the Rumangabo Widows sewing workshop attended the European Development Days conference in Brussels, where they showcase...

Explore FALLEN RANGERS PROJECT

Group 2 Created with Sketch.
05.31.2018
Virunga coffee launches!
One for the coffee fans out there: every purchase of Higher Grounds' Kawa Kanzururu Coffee goes towards supporting the development work of V...

Explore VIRUNGA COFFEE LAUNCHES!

Group 2 Created with Sketch.
05.31.2018
Rangers Project
We are so delighted to share the news that the mountain gorilla population has surpassed 1000! Incredible news for Virunga and incredible news for conservation, and testament to the continued work of Virunga's Rangers in ensuring the protection of the species.

Explore RANGERS PROJECT

Group 2 Created with Sketch.
02.13.2018
Fallen Rangers Fund
Children of the fallen Rangers playing in the child care center at the widows workshop! On-site child care reduces the initial stressors tha...

Explore FALLEN RANGERS FUND

Group 2 Created with Sketch.
12.05.2017
Fallen Rangers Fund
A total of 68 widows and 190 children of fallen Rangers, are now, thanks to the Fallen Rangers Fund, being offered financial support, education, and meaningful employment.

Explore FALLEN RANGERS FUND

Group 2 Created with Sketch.
09.11.2017
Rangers Project
Today, Park Rangers along with the Gorilla Doctors team successfully located the Rugendo group and removed a deadly snare from the arm of yo...

Explore RANGERS PROJECT

Group 2 Created with Sketch.
07.30.2017
Rangers Project
Happy World Ranger Day! We are extremely proud and grateful to all our Rangers. These men and women are deeply committed to Virunga and ensu...

Explore RANGERS PROJECT

Group 2 Created with Sketch.
07.29.2017
Rangers Project
Last week marked the completion of 5 months of incredibly tough training for Virunga's newest Rangers. 6500 applied, 81 made it through.

Explore RANGERS PROJECT

Group 2 Created with Sketch.
01.12.2017
Fallen Rangers Fund
A beautiful selection of napkins made by the widows of fallen Rangers are on sale at Mikeno Lodge.

Explore FALLEN RANGERS FUND

Group 2 Created with Sketch.

Photo Credit: Brent Stirton; Logo Credit: David Shepard

Photo Credit: Adam Kiefer; Logo Credit: David Shepard

Photo credit: Brent Stirton; Logo credit: David Shepard

Photo credit: Brent Stirton; Logo credit: David Shepard

Photo credit: Orlando von Einsiedel

Photo credit: Brent Stirton; Logo credit: David Shepard

Welcome to Virunga National Park

Explore Africa’s oldest and most biologically diverse protected area

About Virunga

Learn more

The Virunga Alliance

Stability through sustainable development in eastern Congo

Virunga Alliance

Learn more

Rangers Project

Meet the heroes who risk their lives to protect the Park's wildlife and local communities

Rangers Project

Learn more

Orphan Gorillas Project

Meet the orphan gorillas of Virunga's Senkwekwe Center

Gorilla Orphan Project

Learn more

01

The Virunga Alliance

Born out of the Congolese commitment to protect Virunga National Park and the four million people who live within a day's walk of the Park's borders, the Virunga Alliance aims to foster peace and prosperity through the responsible economic development of natural resources.

What is the Virunga Alliance?

The Virunga Alliance is a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) based on the collaboration between civil society, public institutions, and the private sector, working together for the purpose of achieving sustainable development goals in eastern Congo.


It is a community committed to using development as an instrument for bringing peace and prosperity to the region.


The Alliance’s vision is to deliver large-scale opportunities for the local community by reducing poverty rates, stabilizing security, and strengthening local infrastructure.

The Alliance is built on a three-phase approach and identifies three main sectors for development - tourism, sustainable energy and access to credit, and sustainable agriculture and fisheries.


This pioneering development initiative, focussing on unlocking the potential of the Park’s and surrounding areas' natural resources for the benefit of local communities, represents a significant step in conservation and peace-building.


The Alliance's success will position the Park as a major driver of peace and prosperity for the Congolese people, while also offering a template that has the potential to be recreated in other regions grappling with similar challenges.

The Virunga Alliance is a major focus to help ensure that the National Park works to the benefit of local communities.

Innocent Mburanumwe
Deputy Director and Southern Sector Warden

Photo credit: Adam Kiefer

Innocent is responsible for the conservation of the wildlife in the Park’s Southern Sector, which includes Virunga’s critically endangered mountain gorillas. He has been a Virunga National Park Ranger for over 20 years.

Innocent is responsible for the conservation of the wildlife in the Park’s Southern Sector, which includes Virunga’s critically endangered mountain gorillas. He has been a Virunga National Park Ranger for over 20 years.

Goals of the Virunga Alliance

Economic Impact

$1 bil.

Increase regional GDP by USD 1 billion, nearly doubling the Park’s local opportunity cost

Job Creation

100,000

New and sustainable jobs that will unlock economic opportunities for the local population

Community Development

30%

Invested annually in community initiatives that benefit the local populations

Clean Energy

105 MW

Hydroelectric power developed for commercial and residential use

Eco-Tourism

28,000

Local and international tourists visiting Virunga annually

02

The Challenge

Virunga National Park’s resources have enormous economic value. When these resources are poorly managed, it can lead to extreme cycles of violence. Cultivating peace and stability in the region is tied to the Park’s ability to harness the wealth of the Park to help build new jobs and opportunities for the local population.

Summary of the Conflict Economy

In the past two decades, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has been deeply impacted by a civil war that has resulted in the deaths of an estimated 5.6 million people, making the conflict the deadliest since World War II.


Despite being one of the most naturally wealthy countries in the world, nearly 77% of the population is living in extreme poverty, defined by the World Bank as those living on less than US$1.90 per day.

Virunga National Park exists between these extremes of economic poverty and natural wealth, which has made it a target for those looking to profit from its resources. Millions of dollars' worth of illegally trafficked charcoal, fish, and animal products are extracted from the Park each year by members of armed militias.


These armed militants are regularly met by Virunga’s Rangers who are tasked with protecting the Park’s valuable resources. To date, over 175 brave and committed Rangers have lost their lives safeguarding Virunga National Park.

Rangers protecting against further deforestation
Photo credit: Brent Stirton

Rangers patrolling for charcoal extracted from within the Park
Photo credit: Brent Stirton

01
/
Stroke 3 Copy Created with Sketch.
Stroke 3 Copy Created with Sketch.

In protecting Virunga’s natural resources, Park management is confronted by an immense social justice problem – land that has an enormous economic value is being set aside for conservation and therefore cannot be used by the local people.


By depriving the local population of access to resources within the Park, the poorest people on earth are being asked to pay the price for conservation.

The only viable solution is to create an alternative economy that incorporates and enables the community living around Virunga to benefit from a thriving National Park. This is the premise of the Virunga Alliance.

Virunga's Economy at a Glance

Poverty Index

77.2%

People in the eastern Congo are living below the extreme poverty line of $1.90 per person per day.

Population

6.7M

Individuals currently living in North Kivu - four million live within a day's walk of the Park.

Growth Rate

3.2%

Annual population growth rate for the Democratic Republic of Congo between 2010 and 2015.

01
/
10
Stroke 3 Copy Created with Sketch.
Stroke 3 Copy Created with Sketch.
threats-charcoal-extraction_2

Charcoal Extraction

$4M worth of charcoal is illegally extracted each year from within the Park boundary by armed militants.


Photo credit: Brent Stirton

Poaching

Millions of dollars worth of revenue from the sale of animal parts, mainly in the forms of bushmeat and ivory, are illegally poached from the Park per year.


Photo credit: Brent Stirton

Illegal Fishing

$35M worth of fish are illegal extracted from Lake Edward each year using unsustainable fishing practices.


Photo credit: Brent Stirton
threats-agriculture_2

Illegal Agriculture

25% of the Park’s surface is invaded by illegal agriculture for subsistence farming by impoverished farmers.


Photo Credit: Brent Stirton

03

Building a Solution

The Virunga Alliance was founded on the principle that the Park’s survival depends on its ability to act as an asset for its surrounding communities. Through the responsible and sustainable development of the Park’s key assets - tourism, clean energy, and sustainable agriculture - the Virunga Alliance is working to kick-start a green economy in eastern Congo, for the benefit of its neighbouring communities.

The Pillars

Page 1 Created with Sketch.
01
Eco-Tourism

From the 1960’s to 1980’s, Virunga National Park was the francophone equivalent of the Serengeti as a world class destination, but conflict and illegal resource extraction (such as poaching, encroaching, and forest clearance) caused a steep decline in tourism.

Through massive efforts by the Virunga Alliance, tourism was relaunched in 2014. Since that time there have been over 17,000 visitors to the Park.

Group 3 Created with Sketch.
Close
01
Eco-Tourism
Tourism in Virunga National Park holds massive potential for eastern Congo and is a clear growth industry for the entire region. The creation of highly skilled and profitable employment that is also sustainable has the potential to generate billions of dollars in revenue for the country.
Group 3 Created with Sketch.
Read More
Page 1 Created with Sketch.
02
Clean Energy

In an area as poor as eastern Congo, one of the largest expenses for families is energy for cooking and heating. Most people are reliant on charcoal, created through the burning of trees, and a major cause of deforestation within Virunga National Park.


The construction of low impact, run-of-river hydropower plants outside the Park's boundaries is aimed at supplying reliable and affordable electricity to four million people who live around the Park. In 2010, the Park’s first hydro-electric project at Mutwanga was launched. The first plant is fully operational and generates 400KW for 600 homes, 43 businesses and two industrial investments. It also provides electricity free of charge to schools and hospitals.


In 2015, a larger plant of 13.5MW was completed at Matebe, and a network of distribution lines constructed to take the electricity out to nearby communities. Over 3000 households and 125 small and medium-sized enterprizes (SMEs) are connected to this network, with new connections taking place at a rate of 25/day. 15 villages – and many more in the future – have received free street lighting, which has had a major impact on the social lives and physical security of their inhabitants. The construction of two additional hydropower plants and associated network, totaling over 30MW, started in 2017.

Electricity distribution is achieved using smart grid technology to monitor power usage, facilitate payments and provide financial credit facilities. An innovative micro-finance scheme has been implemented allowing carefully selected entrepreneurs (SME’s) connected to the network to receive a flexible and low interest loan which they repay through their electricity bills. 20 entrepreneurs have so far received a “Virunga loan”, which provides them with the required cash flow to invest in and scale up their businesses. The loan program will reach thousands of beneficiaries over the next three years.

Group 3 Created with Sketch.
Close
02
Clean Energy
The Virunga Alliance is working to tackle both energy poverty and to curb production of illegal charcoal by harnessing the enormous hydrological resources of the Park to create sustainable electricity for local communities and businesses.
Group 3 Created with Sketch.
Read More
Page 1 Created with Sketch.
03
Sustainable Agriculture

Since the first hydroelectric plant was completed, the Park has made investments in three hydro-transformation businesses and provided loans to over 300 small to medium sized businesses. The Alliance has invested in businesses such as the Sicovir soap factory, which now employs 400 individuals.


Investments in hydro-electricity will also benefit the fishing industry around Lake Edward by boosting refrigeration capacity along the supply chain. With the lake producing an estimated 10,000 tons of fish annually, and with 40,000 people dependent on the fishing industry, these investments have the potential to vastly improve quality of life within these communities.

The Virunga Alliance will continue to focus on micro-businesses in the region, the most effective area for the creation of jobs, by supplying small business owners with not only an affordable form of clean electricity, but also by providing them with access to an affordable loan system.


This plan will enable development in a way that will specifically address the creation of viable alternative livelihoods for the local populations as well as ex-combatants, thereby making a critical contribution to the stabilisation of the Great Lakes Region.

Group 3 Created with Sketch.
Close
03
Sustainable Agriculture
Electricity provided by the Virunga Alliance’s clean energy program has allowed a number of businesses to expand in the eastern Congo. A reliable, affordable power supply is already breathing life back into the private sector, especially agri-business processing.
Group 3 Created with Sketch.
Read More
01
/
10
Stroke 3 Copy Created with Sketch.
Stroke 3 Copy Created with Sketch.
Today
2017
Our Goal
2030
  • Eco-Tourism
  • Clean Energy
  • Sustainable Agriculture
Tourists

Tourists in the Park each year
Bed Nights

Bed nights available
Direct Jobs

Jobs created directly through Virunga National Park
Indirect Jobs

Jobs created indirectly through community initiatives tied to eco-tourism
Megawatts

Hydro-power available for commercial and human development
Power Lines

Kilometers of power lines installed
Smart Meters

Smart meters connected in local households and businesses
Enterprises Served

Households and small-medium enterprises served
Jobs

Newly created and supported direct and indirect jobs
Investment Portfolio

Investment portfolio (USD) with loans benefiting small to medium enterprises
Agro-Transformation

Agro-transformation business benefiting from investments through the Virunga Alliance
Improved Income

Small farming and fishing households benefitting from an improved income

Strengthening Infrastructure

Eastern Congo suffers from two key structural problems that hamper its economic development: inadequate roads and a very adverse business climate. As part of the three pillars of the Virunga Alliance, there is a commitment to improving local infrastructure and governance.


Transport is key to sustainable development and a thriving agricultural business. In the absence of quality feeder roads, small farmers cannot reach urban markets and sell their produce, or can only reach markets after excessive delay and difficulty with produce whose quality has deteriorated. Instead, intermediaries buy the harvest at a very low price and keep the profit margins. Many products that could be produced within the DRC are imported and sold at much higher prices.

Legal insecurity and excessive taxation are another obstacle to small and medium-size entrepreneurship. Many growing businesses struggle with challenges, such as corruption, which can serve as serious impediments to business growth.


The Virunga Alliance is working to tackle these issues through the construction and the maintenance of 1000 km of feeder roads. It will also consolidate the rule of law by leveraging the judicial authority enshrined in the statute of its Rangers and providing legal and fiscal advice to local entrepreneurs. By working on these two “enabling” factors, the Park will unlock the economic potential that hydroelectricity brings to the region.

The Virunga Alliance built the Matebe hydro-electrical power plant; it took us a year to achieve provision of power to as many as 3,000 people

Ephrem Balole
CEO, Virunga Energies

Photo credit: Virunga National Park

As CEO of Virunga Energies, Ephrem Balole helps to oversee the running of Virunga's hydro projects. He has been involved in Park operations for over ten years.

As CEO of Virunga Energies, Ephrem Balole helps to oversee the running of Virunga's hydro projects. He has been involved in Park operations for over ten years.

Governance of the Virunga Alliance

The Virunga Alliance is the result of the collaboration of the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN), the Virunga Foundation, and 127 local institutions from the private sector, civil society and government agencies.


The program is being implemented by an experienced team of Congolese and international experts, with a long track record of delivering effective results in the region. The team operates through Virunga Energies, a DRC subsidiary of the Virunga Foundation, structured to ensure good corporate governance and to promote institutional sustainability.

The Public-Private Partnership agreement established in 2011 gives the Virunga Foundation an official mandate and the management freedom needed to rapidly and efficiently implement a conservation focussed peace-building program. It also keeps the Virunga Foundation accountable to the State.


All external and internal resources are deployed within a transparent framework, designed in consultation with the Park’s neighboring communities, and managed in terms of best practice corporate governance.

01
/
10
Stroke 3 Copy Created with Sketch.
Stroke 3 Copy Created with Sketch.

Mutwanga hydro-electric plant employee

Mutwanga hydro-electric plant now serves over 400 households and small to medium sized enterprises.


Photo credit: Brent Stirton

School children in Rumangabo

Nine schools have been built since the creation of the Virunga Alliance.


Photo credit: Virunga National Park

Mikeno lodge staff members

Over 120 direct and 400 indirect jobs have been created since tourism was re-launched in Virunga in 2014.


Photo credit: Virunga National Park

04

The Progress

Thanks to the commitment of the Virunga Rangers, Congolese government, and partners and supporters from around the world, the Park has seen a remarkable period of transformation since the creation of the Virunga Alliance.

  • 2008
    Development meets conservation
  • 2010
    Hydroelectric Potential
  • 2011
    Public-Private Partnership
  • 2012
    Community Development
  • 2013
    Mutwanga Hydroelectric Plant
  • 2014
    Tourism Relaunched
  • 2015
    Matebe Hydroelectric Plant
  • 2016
    Luviro Hydroelectric Plant
  • 2017
    Mutwanga II Construction Begins

Photo credit: Caj Tjeenk Willink

2008
Development meets conservation
With the appointment of a new Park Director, civil society, private sector and state institutions come together to work towards sustainable development goals in eastern Congo.

Photo credit: Brent Stirton

2010
Hydroelectric Potential
Virunga’s hydroelectric potential is identified as a key area for economic growth in the region. Construction for the pilot 400KW hydroelectric plant near Mutwanga, a rural village in Virunga's Northern Sector, begins.

Photo credit: LuAnne Cadd

2011
Public-Private Partnership
The Virunga Foundation signs an innovative, 25 year co-management agreement with ICCN. The agreement brings together 127 local institutions from private, civil and government sectors – all committed to sustainably developing the Park’s resources.

Photo credit: Brent Stirton

2012
Community Development
The Rumangabo water supply network is built at the height of the war in April-August 2012 to reduce women and children’s exposure to the dangers of armed conflict by having to venture far from their homes to collect water during the fighting.

Photo credit: Brent Stirton

2013
Mutwanga Hydroelectric Plant
The Mutwanga Hydroelectric plant is completed. It generates power for 600 homes, 43 businesses and two industrial investments. It also provides electricity free of charge to schools and hospitals.

Photo credit: LuAnne Cadd

2014
Tourism Relaunched
Tourism in the Park is relaunched in January 2014 after the Park was forced to close due to a resurgence of armed conflict in 2012.

Photo credit: Brent Stirton

2015
Matebe Hydroelectric Plant
The launch of the second hydroelectric plant with over 13MW capacity provides clean electricity to 3000 local homes.

Photo credit: Brent Stirton

2016
Luviro Hydroelectric Plant
Construction of the 14.5MW Luviro power plant begins. The first villages with electric street lights are turned on in April.

Photo credit: Brent Stirton

2017
Mutwanga II Construction Begins
Construction on Mutwanga II begins and is expected to drastically increase capacity of the hydro-electricity network by 2018.

Our Progress

Infrastructure

20

Hospitals have been completed, along with 9 schools, and 2 health clinics

Roads

68

Kilometers of feeder roads have that have been successfully rehabilitated

Energy

21

Local villages now have access to public lighting from clean energy

Network

5000

Homes are being powered by Virunga’s two online hydroelectric projects

Tourists

17000

Tourists have visited Virunga

05

Community Development and Programs

Virunga and its partners are committed to integrating the highest standards of community-based natural resource management by soliciting and incorporating input from the communities living around the Park.

Our Programs

Virunga regularly consults with the local population to determine conservation and investment priorities.


Virunga National Park also depends on the support from its international community to sustain its vital programs, such as Ranger training, the Fallen Rangers Fund for Widows, and the orphan gorilla program, that deliver benefits to its wildlife, employees, and local communities.

When you choose to support Virunga National Park, your donation not only helps to establish a future for the Park but also provides crucial resources for the Park’s dedicated community members whose livelihoods depend on the Park's survival.

Join the Effort to Protect Virunga National Park

You can make a difference by joining our community of dedicated individuals who aim to protect Africa’s oldest national park and bring peace and prosperity for the four million people who depend on it.