Virunga National Park

Posted 27.02.24 by:

Parc National Des Virunga marque. Virunga National Park logo.

Virunga Foundation Background

I had the privilege of engaging in a conversation with Wannes, a dedicated representative of the Virunga Foundation, an organization tasked with safeguarding a vast National Park in the tumultuous landscape of Congo.

Virunga Foundation, based in the Democratic Republic of Congo, bears the weighty responsibility of preserving a substantial National Park. However, this task is no ordinary endeavor. The region has been ensnared in a relentless civil conflict for two decades, where active hostilities continue to unfold even to this day. This lawless state offers no sanctuary, resulting in rampant poaching, illegal land occupation, logging, farming, and fishing, all contributing to a dire environmental crisis.

Mountain gorillas as shown in their natural habitat in Virunga National Park in Africa.

The Foundation takes on this daunting challenge by implementing a multifaceted approach. Their first line of defense is vigilant policing, backed by the authority vested in them as an official Congolese government-affiliated entity. Armed with the ability to apprehend and bring offenders to justice, they also employ a dedicated corps of rangers to enforce daily security measures within the park.

At present, the Virunga Foundation boasts a workforce of approximately 1000 to 1500 personnel, including a significant number of rangers. The exact count eludes us, but it’s safe to say that they have a substantial ranger force tasked with the crucial mission of preserving the park’s integrity.

Yet, the Virunga Foundation’s strategy extends beyond law enforcement. Recognizing that policing alone cannot rescue the park from peril, they strive to provide legitimate alternatives to the illicit economic activities that thrive in the region. In an impoverished and war-torn environment bereft of infrastructure, they have initiated various economic projects.

These initiatives encompass five hydro-based electrical power plants and several factories dedicated to producing chocolates, wheat, and soap. Sourcing local produce and manufacturing the final goods on-site is their approach to maximizing profits and supporting the local economy. However, exporting goods from a conflict-ridden area with minimal infrastructure presents formidable challenges, making security and logistical support crucial.

As we delve deeper into the case study, we will explore the intricate web of Virunga Foundation’s operations, the critical role played by 1st Reporting in safeguarding their assets, and the formidable logistics involved in sustaining these ventures in such an unforgiving environment.

Challenges Before 1st Reporting

“So we were completely non-digital … until a few years ago, 1st reporting was one of the first efforts in digitizing any of the workflows in the park. Which in this case is the legal stuff. Before that, it was all paper based. So you can imagine it was a nightmare. There were no records being kept, a lot of the stuff was disappearing as well because corruption is a big factor here. So you had people just making dossiers disappear or not filling them out correctly or whatever.”

Wannes Van Causbroeck, Project Manager Digitalisation at Virunga Foundation
  • Virunga Foundation operated in a non-digital environment, relying on paper-based documentation.
  • Corruption and a lack of record-keeping led to inefficiencies and lost data.
  • Policing and prosecuting offenders, especially for severe crimes, require accurate and complete records. Due to poor paperwork, these crimes often went unpunished.

Why Virunga Chose 1st Reporting

  • Virunga chose 1st Reporting for its user-friendly interface, which is critical for a workforce with limited digital literacy.
  • The simplicity of the platform made it suitable for the challenging environment.
  • 1st Reporting has facilitated structured reporting, improved traceability, and aided in better record-keeping.
  • Delivery of service included report customization and other features customized explicitly for Virunga Foundation’s unique needs and requirements.

Valuable Features of 1st Reporting Employed For Virunga Foundation

  • The media upload feature, which attaches photos and data directly to reports, has been invaluable for evidence collection.
  • Real-time alerting and severity ratings have improved response times and data accuracy.
  • The platform has provided valuable performance metrics on rangers, enhancing management capabilities.
  • The platform API has enabled multi-system collaboration and integration with other solutions like wildlife tracking and analysis


“But I have to say here, 1st Reporting’s (ease of use) is, I think, originally one of the reasons why we chose it. It’s really helpful because it’s super user friendly. “

Wannes Van Causbroeck, Project Manager Digitalisation at Virunga Foundation

Implementing the 1st Reporting app into paper-entrenched field operations was no easy feat. However, two considerations made implementation possible:

  1. Ease of Use – 1st Reporting has a straightforward and intuitive design, making it easy to learn, even for those who are technologically challenged.
  2. Offline Features – Working out in the Virunga National Park means that you don’t always have a cell signal. In fact, most of the park lacks cellular coverage completely, so a robust application can store data locally on mobile devices until they return to connected service. Once the device reconnects, it uploads data input while offline, creating a seamless field data capture process.

The implementation of the 1st Reporting app was so successful that the Virunga Foundation dedicated a special ranger to complete training in the field with other team members who require extra support due to a lack of formal education.


“Well, now somebody submits a report. If it’s a high severity, we immediately see in the report, all the details like, okay, it’s in this location, this or that has happened too, so you generally get pictures now. So, you see, the speed of our reaction time is also enormously helped by having a more complete report.”

Wannes Van Causbroeck, Project Manager Digitalisation at Virunga Foundation
  • Improved Record-Keeping: Before using the 1st Reporting app, the Virunga Foundation relied on paper-based documentation, which was inefficient and often resulted in missing or incomplete records. With the app, they have achieved structured and organized reporting, eliminating the issues of lost data.
  • Enhanced Data Accuracy: The platform’s media upload feature allows for the attachment of photos, videos, and data directly to reports. This feature has significantly improved the accuracy of records, making it easier to provide evidence for prosecution in court cases, especially for severe crimes within the park.
  • Real-Time Alerting: The app’s real-time alerting feature has expedited response times to incidents. It ensures that the right people are promptly informed when issues arise, enabling rapid and appropriate actions to be taken.
  • Performance Metrics: 1st Reporting provides valuable performance metrics on rangers, enabling better management and organization of patrols and command structures. This data helps Virunga management to identify areas that require attention and ensures patrols remain active and influential.
  • Mobile User-Friendly Interface: The user-friendly nature of the 1st Reporting app has been a crucial factor in its success. In an environment where many personnel have limited formal education and digital literacy, the simplicity of the platform has made it accessible and easy to use.
  • Open Integration: The API of 1st Reporting has been helpful for integration with other systems. This flexibility allows for the seamless incorporation of the platform into their existing workflows and systems, such as Earth Ranger.

Recommendations and Future Outlook

“What really helped us as well is, is the close connection with Bond (at 1st Reporting) and that he’s always available for any question or to help us out or even do some custom stuff when we ask for it, like some custom features. So, that’s for me, that’s really important and also that the API. The API is really helpful so that it’s really an open platform that you can integrate in other things.”

Wannes Van Causbroeck, Project Manager Digitalisation at Virunga Foundation

In this case study, we’ve explored the intricate challenges faced by the Virunga Foundation in its mission to safeguard a critical National Park amidst the chaos of the Congo. From rampant poaching to illegal activities fueled by a lack of infrastructure, the organization has grappled with a host of complex issues.

Before the adoption of 1st Reporting, Virunga Foundation operated in a non-digital environment, resulting in inefficiencies, lost data, and challenges in prosecuting offenders. However, with the implementation of 1st Reporting, significant improvements have been achieved.

The platform’s user-friendly interface, real-time alerting, and the ability to attach photos and data directly to reports have revolutionized the way Virunga Foundation manages its operations. Accurate record-keeping and enhanced data accuracy are now a reality, enabling more effective law enforcement and prosecution.

Furthermore, the performance metrics provided by 1st Reporting have empowered the Virunga Foundation to organize patrols and monitor ranger activities better. At the same time, the platform’s seamless integration with other systems has opened up new possibilities for wildlife tracking and analysis.

In conclusion, the Virunga Foundation highly recommends 1st Reporting to similar organizations. The platform’s user-friendliness, coupled with the exceptional support provided by the 1st Reporting team, has proven instrumental in addressing their unique challenges. The flexibility of the platform, including its API for integration, ensures that it can adapt and evolve alongside the evolving needs of organizations operating in challenging environments.

Looking forward, Virunga Foundation plans to streamline its workflows further, automate processes, and leverage the capabilities of 1st Reporting to enhance its operations. With a commitment to innovation and a dedicated team, the future holds promise for more efficient and effective park preservation efforts in the heart of Congo’s wilderness.

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