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How Bitcoin mining saved Africa’s oldest national park from bankruptcy

The Virunga National Park’s Bitcoin mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo monetizes surplus energy for conservation efforts.



The Virunga National Park's Bitcoin mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo monetizes surplus energy for conservation efforts.

Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has become the first national park in the world to run a Bitcoin (BTC) mine in an effort to protect its forests and wildlife. Cointelegraph spoke with Sébastien Gouspillou, CEO of Big Block Green Services, and the man who introduced 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 by issues prior to Bitcoin mining. From local militias that waged violent attacks on its animals and employees to outbreaks of Ebola to kidnappings, the emblematic national park has struggled for revenue in recent years. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent eradication of tourism was almost the nail in the coffin for the park, as visits to see the gorillas, other wildlife and waterfalls dried up. The article explained that tourism represented roughly 40% of the park’s revenue.

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 strife, he felt compelled to help. He met with Emmanuel De Merode, the park’s director — and a Belgian prince by bloodline — at a chateau in France at the tail end of 2019. Gouspillou explained that 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 income.

The conversation in the chateau was non-stop. “It must’ve lasted hours,” Gouspillou explained. The discussion, as well as follow-ups and a visit to Congo, eventually culminated in De Merode setting up the first portions of the mining operation in early 2020, which successfully mined the first coins in September of that year.

Bitcoin mines in Virunga set against the park backdrop. Source: Twitter

Almost three years later, the park earned significant income from Bitcoin. During some months of the 2021 bull run, the park was rewarded upwards of $150,000 a month — almost entirely offsetting lost tourist income. 

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

The mine is powered by three hydro plants within 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 in rotating shifts operating the miners in the jungle, to staff the facility. Fearless rangers protect the site — a story that inspired a Netflix documentary, among other things.

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 owns three of these containers, Gouspillou the remaining seven. Gouspillou purchases energy from Virunga as part of the arrangement, while keeping the mined Bitcoin.

Plus, as Gouspillou explains, the existing Bitcoin mining facility is part of a “global plan,” in which there will be further power-generating opportunities. Other power stations will be set up across the park, he explained, to connect local villages to electricity and, of course, mine more Bitcoin.

De Merode is steadfast that the project will be successful despite the ongoing bear market. Indeed, some Bitcoin miners fell victim to the 2022 bear market, but De Merode occupies a unique position: The park is not speculating on the value of Bitcoin, but generating Bitcoin using surplus energy to monetize something that otherwise has no value.

Virunga National Park is known for its gorillas. Source:

Plus, there is little risk of the Bitcoin (or private keys) disappearing if De Merode is killed in action. Over 200 of the park’s security, or rangers have been killed since 1996 — and De Merode was shot twice while traveling to Goma in 2014, so it’s a tragic but possible outcome that must be prepared for.

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

“It’s unlikely we sit on Bitcoin for more than a few weeks anyway, because we need the money to run the park. So if something happened to me or our CFO lost the password, we’d give him a hard time—but it wouldn’t cost us much.”

Similar to El Salvador’s treatment in the mainstream media, the “bet” that De Merode made has invited skepticism from experts who wonder what crypto has to do with conservation. Gouspillou explained that it took some time for De Merode to refer to the project as a Bitcoin mining project, preferring to use the term “blockchain mining,” as it’s more PR-friendly.

The hydroplant and Bitcoin mine are located among the dense rainforest. Source: Gouspillou

For Gouspillou, he hasn’t been able to find a downside to the story of how a Bitcoin mine has saved a national park:

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

ASICS, or application-specific integrated circuits, are Bitcoin mining machines. Every 10 minutes, ASICS take part in 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, avoiding e-waste. The miners use excess, clean energy, and De Merode uses that funding to protect wildlife.

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

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

Bitcoin mining projects in Africa using untapped and renewable energy appear to be a growing trend. From the mountains of Kenya to the tropical climes of Malawi, Bitcoin mining is cropping up in incongruous areas of the globe.

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

“Miners are buyers of first resort (always want to run) and last resort for overproducing energy locations to become economically viable. As consumer demand grows in a community, Bitcoin mining can be decreased or removed entirely, but it enabled critical infrastructure to be built out.”

In essence, if a region offers stranded or abundant, overproduced energy, a Bitcoin mine could be financially appealing.

Nonetheless, the park still needs funds and investment. The Congolese government provides just 1% of its operating budget while tourism will remain low while conflicts threaten safety. As Gouspillou explains, Bitcoin mining is one 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.

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VanEck to donate 10% of profits from Ether ETF to core developers

The Protocol Guild, a team of over 150 Ethereum core developers, will be the beneficiary. VanEck argues that asset managers should give back some Ether…



The Protocol Guild, a team of over 150 Ethereum core developers, will be the beneficiary. VanEck argues that asset managers should give back some Ether ETF proceeds to the community.

Global asset manager VanEck will donate 10% of all profits from its upcoming Ether futures exchange-traded fund (ETF) to Ethereum core developers for 10 years, the company announced on X (formerly Twitter) on Sept. 29. 

The beneficiary will be the Protocol Guild, a group of over 150 developers maintaining Ethereum’s core technology. According to VanEck, it’s only fair for asset managers to return part of their proceeds to the community building the crypto protocol. It stated:

“If TradFi stands to gain from the efforts of Ethereum’s core contributors, it makes sense that we also give back to their work. We urge other asset managers/ETF issuers to consider also giving back in the same way.“

With this move, VanEck joins other crypto-native communities supporting the Ethereum network, including Lido Finance, Uniswap, Arbitrum, Optimism, ENS Domains, MolochDAO and Nouns DAO.

According to a public dashboard tracking donations sent to the Guild’s mainnet, 4,846 contributions have generated over $12 million in donations. Funds are then distributed among its members according to a weighted ratio based on their contribution periods.

The network core developers are reportedly working on Ethereum Improvement Proposal EIP-4844 (Proto-Danksharding). The upgrade will introduce a new kind of transaction type to Ethereum, promising to reduce transaction fees for layer-2 protocols.

VanEck disclosed its upcoming Ethereum Strategy ETF on Sept. 28, saying it will invest in Ether futures contracts. The fund will be actively managed by Greg Krenzer, head of active trading at VanEck, and is expected to be listed on the Chicago Board Options Exchange in the coming days.

Other traditional investment firms set to offer exposure to Ether futures include Valkyrie and Bitwise, while the line for a spot Ether ETF keeps growing with Invesco Galaxy, ARK 21Shares and VanEck waiting for regulatory approval. The United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently delayed a decision on whether to approve a spot Ether product until December.

Magazine: Joe Lubin — The truth about ETH founders split and ‘Crypto Google’

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FTX exploiter moved over $17M in ETH in the last 24 hours

A significant portion of the 7,749 ETH, worth roughly $13 million, was directed toward the THORChain router and Railgun contract.



A significant portion of the 7,749 ETH, worth roughly $13 million, was directed toward the THORChain router and Railgun contract.

According to recent information from Spot On Chain, an address linked to the FTX exploit identified as 0x3e9, has conducted transfers exceeding 10,000 Ether (ETH), worth roughly $17 million, across five different addresses since Sept. 30. The addresses had remained inactive for several months before the recent activity.

Within these transactions, a significant portion of 7,749 ETH, equivalent to $13 million, was directed toward the Thorchain router and Railgun contract. Furthermore, the exploiter engaged in a swap involving 2,500 ETH, valued at $4.19 million, converting it into 153.4 tBTC at an average rate of $27,281 per token. This address, which has recently become active, has exhibited noteworthy activity and is anticipated to continue transferring ETH, most likely to Thorchain.

At the time of the initial hack on Saturday, Sept. 30, the approximate losses amounted to nearly 50,000 ETH. This incident occurred just a short while before SBF's criminal trial scheduled for Oct. 2023.

Nevertheless, these occurrences have generated a significant amount of downward pressure on the ETH price, which currently maintains a level slightly above $1,650. This situation arises as the market anticipates the introduction of Ethereum futures ETFs on Monday, Oct. 2.

FTX co-founder Sam Bankman-Fried, commonly known as SBF, is scheduled to go to trial in October. This comes after his arrest in The Bahamas and subsequent extradition to the United States, marking several months since these events occurred.

The trial is expected to last for six weeks, beginning with the selection of the jury on Oct. 3, followed by the initial court proceedings on Oct. 4. Bankman-Fried faces a total of seven charges connected to fraudulent activities, comprising two substantive charges and five conspiracy charges.

Related: Valkyrie backtracks on Ether futures contract purchases until ETF launch

During the legal proceedings, the FTX founder has consistently pleaded not guilty to all allegations. Despite numerous attempts to secure temporary release, Bankman-Fried continues to be held in custody at the Metropolitan Detention Center. His most recent request for release was denied by Judge Lewis Kaplan, citing concerns about the possibility of him fleeing.

Magazine: Can you trust crypto exchanges after the collapse of FTX?

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SEC initiates legal action against FTX’s auditor

The SEC alleges that Prager Metis, an accounting firm engaged by bankrupt crypto exchange FTX in 2021, committed hundreds of violations related to auditor…



The SEC alleges that Prager Metis, an accounting firm engaged by bankrupt crypto exchange FTX in 2021, committed hundreds of violations related to auditor independence.

The United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has commenced legal proceedings against an accounting firm that had provided services to cryptocurrency exchange FTX before its bankruptcy declaration.

According to a Sept. 29 statement, the SEC alleged that accounting firm Prager Metis provided auditing services to its clients without maintaining the necessary independence as it continued to offer accounting services. This practice is prohibited under the auditor independence framework.

Extract from the SEC's September 29 statement. Source: SEC

To prevent conflicts of interest, accounting and audit tasks must be kept clearly separate. However, the SEC claims that these entwined activities spanned over a period of approximately three years:

“As alleged in our complaint, over a period of nearly three years, Prager’s audits, reviews, and exams fell short of these fundamental principles. Our complaint is an important reminder that auditor independence is crucial to investor protection.”

While the statement doesn't explicitly mention FTX or any other clients, it does emphasize that there were allegedly "hundreds" of auditor independence violations throughout the three-year period.

Furthermore, a previous court filing pointed out that the FTX Group engaged Metis to audit FTX US and FTX at some point in 2021. Subsequently, FTX declared bankruptcy in November 2022. 

The filing alleged that since former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried publicly announced previous FTX audit results, Metis should have recognized that its work would be used by FTX to bolster public trust.

Related: FTX founder’s plea for temporary release should be denied, prosecution says

Concerns were previously reported about the material presented in FTX audit reports.

On Jan. 25, current FTX CEO John J. Ray III told a bankruptcy court that he had “substantial concerns as to the information presented in these audited financial statements.”

Furthermore, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ron Wyden raised concerns about Prager Metis' impartiality. They argued that it functioned as an advocate for the crypto industry.

Meanwhile, a law firm that provided services to FTX has come under scrutiny in recent times.

In a Sept. 21 court filing, plaintiffs allege that U.S. based law firm, Fenwick & West, should be held partially liable for FTX's collapse because it reportedly exceeded the norm when it came to its service offerings to the exchange.

However, Fenwick & West asserts that it cannot be held accountable for a client's misconduct as long as its actions remain within the bounds of the client's representation.

Magazine: Blockchain detectives: Mt. Gox collapse saw birth of Chainalysis

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