By Landon Manning
In Congo’s Virunga National Park, compounding issues from the pandemic and violent conflict have had a dramatic impact on tourism, leading park administrators to turn toward green-energy-based Bitcoin mining.
Virunga National Park has had a storied history since its founding in 1925. The oldest national park in The Democratic Republic of the Congo, it is arguably one of the oldest in Africa, especially considering that older parks were established with titles like “Game Preserve No. 3.” Having once been the largest park in the Congo, it sits on the border with two other countries, and has since split between them. The largest piece, however, remains in the Congo, where it is home to thousands of endangered species, including a gorilla that only exists in the park. And it is in trouble.
A series of significant problems has led to park authorities’ decision to begin bitcoin mining in the national park. The park’s status on the border between three nations has engulfed it in various humanitarian crises, like the Congo Wars and the Rwandan Genocide. Although refugees can certainly disrupt endangered habitats, the real danger has come from the fighters. Armed militias from these conflicts can come to poach timber and animals, extract oil, even set up permanent bases and more. And while these threats are bad enough to discourage visitation, the global COVID-19 pandemic further hurt tourism revenues, wiping out 40% of park revenue.
It is for these reasons that park director Emmanuel de Merode has pursued a radical solution: using park facilities to mine Bitcoin. Three hydroelectric dams exist within the park, which can readily convert excess electricity into bitcoin with zero carbon emissions. The operation began in late 2020, and now includes thousands of mining rigs. Some 70% are owned by Big Block Green Services, which has partnered with the park and purchases electricity, while the other 30% are owned directly by the park itself. De Merode seemed unconcerned about market fluctuation, claiming that, “We’re not speculating on its value; we’re generating it. If you buy bitcoin and it decreases, you lose money. We’re making bitcoin out of surplus energy and monetizing something that otherwise has no value. That’s a big difference.”
This radical solution is right at home in a climate of growing Bitcoin adoption in Africa. As international Bitcoin conferences take off, major developers worldwide are already planning to build the infrastructure that can meet growing demand. Virunga turning to decentralized cryptocurrency is just another example of how well Bitcoin can penetrate into new markets, and how its use-cases beyond pure speculation to power a strong community. Although Virunga National Park is facing real dangers near its 100-year anniversary, Bitcoin can show it a bright future for 100 more.
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