As 2018 comes to an end, Virunga’s Chief Warden, Emmanuel de Merode, shares some of the highlights and challenges that the Park has experienced this year.
As we come to the end of 2018, I would like to take a moment to express my personal gratitude to you, our extended family, for your faithful support of Virunga this year. Furthermore, I would like to thank you for the encouragement that you have shown to the Rangers and their families, who continue to make the ultimate sacrifice in protecting the Park, its endangered wildlife and the communities that call it home. It means so much to us and our work would not be possible with you. On behalf of the entire team, thank you.
Despite the many challenges we have faced this year, I am grateful for the opportunity to share some of the successes we have had and update you on our work to safeguard the Park and be a catalyst for sustainable and long term development in the region.
__Clean Energy and Jobs.__
Our groundbreaking development initiative known as the Virunga Alliance has begun to generate employment and enable economic growth in a way never before seen in eastern Congo. One of the great victories in 2018 has been the growth of Virunga’s energy programme that now supplies clean electricity to over 5000 homes and businesses. It has seen the establishment of over 400 new businesses in Rutshuru territory, the area that was so badly affected by the M23 War only a few years ago. Several thousand jobs have been created as a result—a development that is placing Virunga as the engine behind the reconstruction of the economy and the communities living around the park. Two new power plants, Luviro and Mutwanga II will also be completed in 2019, delivering large amounts of clean, affordable energy to the local population.
__Good News on the Gorillas__
2018 has also proven to be a very good year for our mountain gorilla population. The results of the mountain gorilla census conducted across the Virunga Massif indicated that the species has made steady population growth, and we are proud to say that Virunga welcomed 11 new mountain gorilla births this year alone. We are very pleased to see the mountain gorilla’s improved conservation status, transitioning from “critically endangered” to “endangered” for the first time since 1994. These milestones are a testament to the work of dedicated individuals committed to protecting these magnificent creatures at all costs. Furthermore, an interesting new project has been the Bamboo Conservancy around the Gorilla sector, which encourages farmers to plant bamboo as a way of developing gorilla friendly buffer zones around the Park. The Paradise Foundation is helping us to build a bamboo charcoal factory that provides an incredibly interesting alternative to the very destructive charcoal that is robbing the Park of its forests at an alarming rate.
The Widows workshop grew fast this year, with the growing confidence that the widows have in their new skills. They were able to produce over 20,000 handmade crafts this year, doubling production from last year. This has had an impact not just on the pride that the widows feel, but also on the morale of all our staff as they begin to feel that they belong to an organisation that is there for them when the worst tragedies occur.
__Exciting New Programmes with the EU__
We have launched a new agriculture programme this year, funded by our longest running partner, the European Union, that promises to increase income for tens of thousands of farmers producing crops like cocoa, coffee and maize.
Despite all this good news 2018 has also been another deeply challenging year for us as our colleagues have paid the ultimate price in their efforts to safeguard the Park. It was with profound grief that we buried nine of our Ranger colleagues who were killed protecting the Park this year.
As most of you know, we were forced to make a profoundly difficult decision in closing tourism after a serious security incident occurred in May. Though the Rangers and staff are working tirelessly day and night to re-open the Park, it has come at a high cost and we have experienced a massive loss in revenue—and with it, vital funding needed to keep Virunga’s key programs operational and its endangered wildlife protected.
Eastern Congo remains one of the most challenging areas in the world for conservation but we are making headway and our achievements could not have been possible without you. Thank you for remaining by our side, in our victories but also through our hardships. We are so very grateful for the patience and support you have afforded us and we hope that you will continue to stand by us as we head into the new year.
I hope you enjoy a safe and happy holiday and thank you for continuing to include Virunga in your giving plans.
Emmanuel De Merode
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