Virunga National Park

Virunga National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is Africa’s oldest and most biologically diverse protected area. About four million people live within a day’s walk of the park’s borders. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Virunga is home to about a quarter of the world’s 830 critically endangered mountain gorillas. The park features an incredible diversity of landscapes that include jungles, savannas, lava plains, two of the world’s most active volcanoes, the glaciated peaks of the little explored Rwenzori “Mountains of the Moon”, and Lake Edward – one of Africa’s Great Lakes.

Ever since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the region has been plagued with civil war. Blessed by boundless natural resources, minerals, and fossil fuel deposits, the area around Virunga has long been the target of organized and informal extractive interests. The numerous armed groups operating in and around Virunga play an important role in providing protection for the private companies and individuals trying to exploit the park’s riches.

Against the backdrop of war – and despite the death of more than 140 of their comrades over the past decade – Virunga’s 500 rangers continue to protect the mountain gorillas and other wildlife in the park.

Beyond loosing his life in the line of duty, a ranger’s greatest fear is the effect his death will have on his family. Until the creation of Virunga National Park’s Fallen Rangers Fund, widows received little or no financial support. More than a few succumbed to severe poverty as a result. Empowers Africa is extremely proud of its support to the Fallen Rangers Fund – a fund launched by the park to provide a long-term financial safety net for widows and children of Virunga rangers killed protecting this UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Emmanuel de Merode, Director of Virunga National Park, initiated the work of identifying all the widows of fallen rangers in 2007. Since that time, he and others on the Virunga team have managed to compile the identities of almost all the ranger widows dating back to 1991, when regional hostilities began. The process will continue until all are identified and screened for eligibility.

The Fallen Rangers Fund’s first goal is to provide financial support – getting monthly pensions to qualifying families as soon as possible. When living in extreme poverty, every passing day deepens a family’s exposure to malnutrition, disease, and premature death. The second goal is to grow a permanent endowment for families of fallen rangers and to develop income generating activities for the widows, such as, gardening, animal husbandry, handicraft manufacturing, and a sewing project. The fund will then be able to cover the base subsistence cost of a family, as well as provide comprehensive family medical coverage. The fund exists outside the Democratic Republic of Congo and is managed by Virunga Fund in the U.S.A. This ensures that political turmoil and conflict will not be able to endanger its ongoing viability.

Empowers Africa is extremely proud to be able to offer these rangers and their families some security for risking their lives in the line of duty protecting Virunga National Park.