Heritage Heroes – Democratic Republic of the Congo
Émmanuel de Mérode
De Mérode on the occasion of receiving the KfW-Bernhard-Grzimek-Award 2015, Frankfurt.
Photography: Astrid Piethan
Democratic Republic of the Congo, Virunga National Park
(Natural World Heritage *1979; World Heritage in Danger: 1994 - Present)
"4 million people are living within a day’s walk from the park in extreme poverty and it is them who are paying the price for this park to exist. So we have to find creative ways for the park to generate wealth for those people."
Émmanuel de Mérode is the director of the Virunga National Park.
When de Mérode first met the rangers 20 years ago on a motorcycle trip to Africa‘s oldest national park, their courage inspired his passion for the conservation of Virunga. The civil war, poaching and oil production endanger the natural treasures of the area.
The intruders‘ propensity for violence is high: National park rangers and de Mérode risk their lives every day to protect the 800,000 ha area with one of the last two mountain gorilla populations. Since 1996, more than 140 rangers have died in the line of duty and de Mérode was hit by a bullet while in his car in 2014. De Mérode established a fund to support the families of deceased rangers.
Step by step, de Mérode is successfully transforming the region that is characterised by war economy and poverty into a sustainable economy. Tourism, hydropower and agriculture have opened up economic perspectives and stability for the four million inhabitants.