How Bitcoin Mining Saved Africa’s Oldest National Park From Bankruptcy


Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has become the first national park in the world to mine Bitcoin (BTC) mine in order to protect its forests and wildlife. Cointelegraph spoke with Sébastien Gouspillou, CEO of Big Block Green Services, and the man who brought Bitcoin mining to the park.

Speaking via video call, Gouspillou said with a smile, “Bitcoin mining saved the park from bankruptcy.”

Virunga is Africa’s oldest protected park and a symbol of the continent’s biodiversity. A report by journalist Adam Popescu, published in MIT Technology Review explained that the region was plagued with problems before Bitcoin was mined. From local militias that have carried out violent attacks on its animals and employees, from Ebola outbreaks to kidnappings, the iconic national park has struggled to make money in recent years.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent eradication of tourism has nearly been the nail in the park’s coffin, as visits to see gorillas, other wildlife, and waterfalls have dried up. The article explained that tourism accounts for about 40% of the park’s income.

From left to right, JF Augusti Co-founder of Big Block Green Services, Seb Gouspillou and Emmanuel de Merode. Source: Gouspillou

When Gouspillou learned of the park’s troubles, he felt compelled to help. He met Emmanuel De Merode, the park’s director – and a Belgian prince by blood – at a chateau in France in late 2019. Gouspillou said he immediately recognized the tremendous opportunity the park presented.

The park could monetize its abundant and untapped natural resources to preserve its existence. Gouspillou explained to De Merode how Virunga could turn to Bitcoin mining to generate revenue.

The conversation at the castle was uninterrupted. “It must have lasted for hours,” explained Gouspillou. The discussion, along with follow-ups and a visit to Congo, ultimately led to De Merode setting up the first parts of the mining operation in early 2020, which successfully mined the first pieces in September from the same year.

Bitcoin mines in Virunga against the background of the park. Source: Twitter

Almost three years later, the park has made significant revenue from Bitcoin. During a few months of the 2021 bull runthe park received more than $150,000 a month, almost entirely compensating for lost tourist revenue.

The Virunga Bitcoin Mine is a unique solution to the problem of preserving the park’s biodiversity while generating revenue. Bitcoin mining is a very energy-intensive process, but the Virunga mine is unique in that it runs on clean energy: it’s green technology surrounded by green rainforest.

The mine is powered by three hydroelectric plants in the park, a sustainable source of electricity that was already being used to power nearby towns. The site has hired nine full-time workers, who work shifts to operate the miners in the jungle, to staff the facility. Fearless rangers protect the site – a story that inspired a Netflix documentary, among others.

Gouspillou and the rangers pose in front of the Bitcoin mine. Source: Gouspillou

The facility has 10 shipping containers, with each container holding 250 to 500 rigs. Virunga has three of these containers, Gouspillou the remaining seven. Gouspillou purchases power from Virunga as part of the arrangement, while retaining the mined Bitcoin.

Additionally, as Gouspillou explains, the existing Bitcoin mining facility is part of an “overall plan,” in which there will be other power generation opportunities. More power plants will be installed across the park, he explained, to connect local villages to electricity and, of course, mine more Bitcoin.

De Merode is convinced that the project will succeed despite the ongoing bear market. Indeed, some Bitcoin miners fell victim to the 2022 bear market, but De Merode is in a unique position: the park does not speculate on the value of Bitcoin, but generates Bitcoin by using the excess energy to monetize something that otherwise has no value.

Virunga National Park is known for its gorillas. Source:

Additionally, there is little risk that the Bitcoin (or the private keys) will disappear if De Merode is killed in battle. More than 200 park security officers, or rangers, were kill since 1996 – and De Merode was shot twice on his way to Goma in 2014, so it’s a tragic but possible outcome to be prepared for.

The park’s finance team manages the custody of the bitcoin wallet and funds generated from the mine are sold regularly to pay for park maintenance. In the MIT Technology Review article, De Merode is quoted as saying:

“We are unlikely to be sitting on Bitcoin for more than a few weeks anyway, as we need the money to run the park. So if anything happens to me or our CFO loses word password, we would give him a hard time, but it wouldn’t cost us much.

Similar to the mainstream media’s treatment of El Salvador, the “bet” De Merode made has drawn skepticism from pundits who wonder what crypto has to do with conservation. Gouspillou explained that it took De Merode some time to label the project a bitcoin mining project, preferring to use the term “blockchain mining” because it is more PR-friendly.

The Hydroplant and the Bitcoin Mine are located in the dense rainforest. Source: Gouspillou

For Gouspillou, he couldn’t find a downside to the story of how a bitcoin mine saved a national park:

“It’s really hard to find a negative side to this story. There is nothing. The energy is clean, even the ASICS – we will recycle them when they reach the end of their life by distributing them in African communities.

ASICS, or Application Specific Integrated Circuits, are bitcoin mining machines. Every 10 minutes, ASICS enters a digital lottery to guess the next Bitcoin block on the Bitcoin Time Chain. As Gouspillou explains, these machines will be broken down and recycled, avoid electronic waste. The miners use excess, clean energy, and De Merode uses this funding to protect wildlife.

Gouspillou (center) and park rangers pose in front of the Bitcoin mines. Source: Gouspillou

Buoyed by success in Congo, Gouspillou has his eyes set on other bitcoin mining projects in sub-Saharan Africa. He was part of the delegation that went to the Central African Republic — the second country to adopt bitcoin as legal tender.

Bitcoin mining projects in Africa using untapped and renewable energy seem to be a growing trend. From the mountains of Kenya to the tropical climates of MalawiBitcoin mining is popping up in incongruous parts of the globe.

Magdalena Gronowska, regular Cointelegraph contributor and and bitcoin mining specialist, explained why:

“Miners are buyers of first resort (they always want to run) and buyers of last resort for sites overproducing energy to become economically viable. As consumer demand increases in a community, bitcoin mining may be reduced or eliminated entirely, but it has enabled critical infrastructure to be built.

Essentially, if a region offers stuck or abundant and overproduced energy, a Bitcoin mine could be financially attractive.

Nevertheless, the park still needs funds and investments. The Congolese government provides just 1% of its operating budget while tourism will remain weak as conflict threatens security. As Gouspillou explains, bitcoin mining is a solution to the park’s problems, as it provides a source of revenue that can be used to protect the park and its wildlife for years to come.