ACF is a UK-registered charity that was created in 2005 to help protect Virunga National Park. Since then ACF has worked in close partnership with the Congolese Wildlife Authority to raise global awareness about Virunga and to solicit and secure funds to pay for improvements to the park’s wildlife protection systems and infrastructure. Today, because of that partnership, Virunga National Park as an institution is more efficient, credible and visible than at any other time in its history. ACF has proved its founding premise that a sovereign authority charged with the protection of an African national park can achieve truly incredible results when working with a small team of committed professionals deployed by a conservation organization.
ACF helps the Congolese Wildlife Authority manage Virunga’s money, from the large sums given by the European Union - Virunga’s most important contributor - to the generous donations from individual people. In order to get the best possible outcome for Virunga, that money needs to be spent with ruthless efficiency. For ACF that efficiency begins at home. By maintaining a single office and employing very few staff, the charity keeps its own operating costs very low, and what costs there are, are covered by a grant from the European Union. So very nearly a hundred percent of each donation made through gorillacd.org – all but a small bank fee - is spent wisely in the field.
The park needs not only to spend money efficiently but also to be seen to do so. It’s no secret that sub-Saharan Africa has a problem with corruption. It has blighted the public and private lives of the Congolese population and wrecked the relationship between their long suffering country and the outside world. Put plainly people are afraid to give money to Congolese institutions and they need to be sure that Virunga is being run properly in order to keep supporting it. ACF is audited at least three times per year and has helped Virunga National Park prepare for and pass rigorous audits so that donors can be confident that, when they give to Virunga, their money is going where it should. Most importantly we are all accountable to you, the online conservation community: you can see exactly how donations are being spent by visiting the website.
ACF has conducted an aggressive media campaign to raise Virunga’s profile. If the park as a project is to be financially viable in the information age, then it then it has to have a clearly branded presence in both digital and print media; it has to be able to compete for attention from people who have been saturated with demand for it.
ACF designed and built gorillacd.org so as to establish direct contact between the park and the people who want to protect it. Now anyone in the world, by interacting with Virunga’s bloggers, can appreciate the efforts and achievements of these African conservationists and the scale of the challenges they face. Most importantly gorillacd.org is a conduit for donations. When people give to Virunga through the website they know exactly what they are funding; they are certain that their money is disbursed on the ground within days; and they can see the impact that their donation has had.
It is no accident that the world’s gaze has fallen directly on Virunga many times in the past few years. Brent Stirton’s photograph of the aftermath of Senkwekwe’s death was, by anyone’s reckoning, one of the defining images of 2007. The Newsweek cover story of which that picture formed a part and the National Geographic cover story published the following year were two important, comprehensive and balanced pieces of conservation journalism among many hundreds of others written about Virunga by journalists who were informed about events in and around the park by ACF staff.
The Congolese Wildlife Authority has achieved a great deal by working with ACF in Virunga. They have rebuilt and extended primary schools in the villages of Jomba, Bikenge, Bukima, Gatovu and Rumangabo. They have refurbished and repaired the park headquarters at Rumangabo and the facilities at Mutsora, and built the Senkwekwe Centre. The Park Rangers are now trained, fed, paid and equipped – with new uniforms and vehicles - better than ever before. The Briquette Program, which is designed to stop or slow the deforestation of the park by reducing the demand for charcoal, is having a profound effect on ordinary people’s attitudes towards the use of natural resources as subsistence fuel, and it may well save the forests and the Mountain Gorillas of the Mikeno Sector.
Much of this has been paid for by funds solicited and raised by ACF, but none of it would have been possible without either the people who gave money or those who did the work. The achievements are theirs. So our thanks go to the European Union, the Murry Foundation, Gearing Up 4 Gorillas, the Howard G Buffett Foundation, the United Nations Foundation, the United Nations Economic Social and Cultural Organization, the Prince Bernhard Foundation, the Thin Green Line Foundation, the Governments of Great Britain, Belgium and the Netherlands, to you, the individual people from all over the planet who support the park, and, of course, to Virunga’s Rangers and Staff.