A message from Emmanuel De Merode on Earth Day

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RUMANGABO, NORTH KIVU, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO - NOVEMBER 24: ICCN Director of Virunga National Park Emmanuel De Merode photographed at Rumangabo Ranger Headquarters, North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo on November 24, 2008. De Merode is a tireless and courageous advocate of conservation in the DRC and has been working in the Congo since 1992. De Merode is also a Prince of Belgium and is a direct descendant of Felix De Merode who led the Belguim rebellion of 1830. After a succesful campaign Felix decline the title of King of Belguim and Leopold the 1st came to power in Belguim. The Gorilla Sector of the Park has been occupied by the rebel movement CNDP under rebel Congolese Tutsi General Laurent Nkunda. Since September 2007 no ICCN Ranger has set foot in this sector, almost all had to flee the fighting and it has not been safe to return. Recent violence in the region has seen CNDP extend its power in the region and it now controls over 50% of the park and all of the Southern section. Emmanuel De Merode, the Director of Virunga National Park, has performed some remarkable diplomacy since the recent fighting and has succesfully negotiated with CNDP and General Nkunda to return the ICCN Rangers to the Park. This is a fragile process but so far 120 courageous Rangers are back at the Southern Headquarters at Rumangabo and there is a camp in the Gorilla Sector at Bukima which has begun a Gorilla census to determine the effects of the war on the mountain Gorilla population. It is a remarkable case of conservation winning out over politics. The DRC had just over 200 of the extremely rare mountain Gorillas, of which there are only 680 in the world. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Getty Images)

Today is Earth Day, a worldwide celebration of environmental protection. I wanted to mark the occasion by sharing an update ahead of my participation in the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon. With less than 24 hours to go, the reality is well and truly sinking in of just how much of an undertaking this race is going to be. Yet, despite the nerves I wanted to say thank you to everyone who has shown such tremendous support for me and Virunga National Park over the past weeks. The messages of support and encouragement mean so much, and your generosity has been overwhelming.

Watch Emmanuel’s unique training session with Virunga’s gorilla orphans at the Senkwekwe Centre

This is my tenth year as director of Virunga National Park, over that period, 41 of my staff were killed. Over 150 have been killed since the civil war started in 1996, many disappearing without trace, and many more were seriously wounded protecting the park’s extraordinary wildlife, as well as local communities, from armed militia. Virunga’s rangers face the extreme dangers of their profession in the fear that, should they be killed, their families will be abandoned. My greatest sorrow has been our failure to provide enough for the families of those that were killed or permanently maimed in the struggle to keep Virunga alive.

Nothing is more important to me than to build an adequate safety net for the widows and children of our friends and colleagues who have been killed. So when a friend challenged me to run the London Marathon, and agreed to match any money we could raise up to half a million dollars, I agreed. The opportunity to achieve something amazing for Virunga’s rangers was impossible to pass up.

The money we raise will go to an endowment that will guarantee a basic pension for the widows and children of Virunga’s fallen rangers forever. On Sunday, I will complete the marathon with pride on behalf of the park’s dedicated rangers, and in memory of those who are sadly no longer with us. Knowing that every step brings us closer to being able to guarantee our rangers security for their families when the worst happens, will help motivate me through those 26.2 miles (42 kilometres) of London’s streets.

Please consider any donation, big or small, we have until 27th April to try and reach our ambitious $1 million fundraising goal.

Sincerely,

Emmanuel de Merode

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