Leonardo DiCaprio Helps Launch Virunga National Park Fund to Protect the Congo Landmark

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
Leonardo DiCaprio

Kicking off with $2 million in seed money, the coordinated effort will go towards helping save the park as it faces a series of threats amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leonardo DiCaprio is continuing his support of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Earth Alliance — a joint venture co-founded by the Oscar-winning actor with Emerson Collective and Global Wildlife Conservation — is partnering with the European Commission to launch the Virunga Fund to help support the park, kicking off with $2 million in seed funding. 

Virunga National Park is home to the mountain gorilla, a species that bounced back from the brink of extinction but whose future is once again endangered. It also houses more species of birds, reptiles and mammals than any other protected area in the world, despite continued threats and the impact of the current coronavirus pandemic. The park inspired the 2014 Netflix documentary Virunga, on which DiCaprio served as executive producer. 

“I had the great honor of meeting and supporting Virunga’s courageous team in their fight against illegal oil drilling in 2013,” DiCaprio said Monday in a statement. “Virunga urgently needs funds to protect the endangered mountain gorilla population, to provide support to the rangers and the families of rangers who have fallen in the line of duty, and to help deliver essential disease prevention efforts. It’s critical that we rally together during this time of incredible crisis.”

In March, Virunga closed all tourism due to COVID-19, resulting in a significant loss of revenue. Further tragedy struck last month when 12 Virunga rangers, a driver and four members of the local community were massacred, reportedly by local rebels, in the deadliest attack on park rangers in the history of African conservation.

Per Monday's announcement, the Virunga Fund will aid in providing for the future of Africa's oldest and most biologically diverse protected area and the communities that surround Virunga National Park. Further, it will give urgent support to partners on the ground in delivering critical disease prevention efforts, law enforcement and the protection of the iconic and critically endangered mountain gorilla and other keystone species like elephants and hippos, in addition to supporting the families of rangers who have fallen in the line of duty.

“Faced with coronavirus and Ebola, we have never been more worried about the future of Virunga National Park," explains Emmanuel De Merode, director of National Virunga Park. "Virunga’s rangers are racing against the clock to protect both the local communities that surround the park and the endangered mountain gorilla population from these twin threats.” 

The effort from DiCaprio is his latest amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously, he partnered with Laurene Powell Jobs and Apple, with support from the Ford Foundation, to help launch America's Food Fund, a fundraising initiative that has raised over $26 million with the goal of ensuring reliable access to food. Additionally, DiCaprio participated in the All In Challenge, offering a set visit to his next film, the Martin Scorsese-directed Killers of the Flower Moon, which raised more than $1.6 million for America's Food Fund, No Kid Hungry and Meals on Wheels.