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The European Union, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Global Wildlife Conservation Team Up to Respond Swiftly to Urgent Environmental Crises Around the Globe

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Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) changed its name to Re:wild in 2021

New Partnership Also Includes Support for Africa’s Most Biodiverse Protected Area, Virunga National Park

For immediate release

December 16, 2020

As wildfires burn hotter and faster, COVID-19 leaves the planet’s most important places for wildlife unprotected, and storms become more severe, there is an urgent need to halt and reverse the decline of nature. Environmentalist and Academy Award®-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio, the European Union and Global Wildlife Conservation have together launched two critical initiatives for biodiversity protection: a Rapid Response for Ecosystems, Species and Communities Undergoing Emergencies (Rapid RESCUE) and an initiative to safeguard Africa’s most biodiverse protected area, Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Both initiatives exemplify the EU’s commitment to delivering the EU’s Green Deal around the world and GWC’s mission to conserve the diversity of life on Earth. Together they are committing $40 million to these efforts.

“Biodiversity is under threat all over the world; the ongoing pandemic has underscored the importance of protecting precious ecosystems to let wildlife flourish,” said Jutta Urpilainen, European Commissioner for International Partnerships. “I am glad Leonardo DiCaprio, GWC and the European Union are teaming up to increase our efforts in protecting biodiversity and securing a green recovery for people after the COVID-19 crisis.”

The first initiative, Rapid RESCUE, will provide a rapid response to emerging biodiversity threats with a $35.6 million budget. This initiative will focus in large part on reducing the impacts of future emergencies—like those caused by the current pandemic—on ecosystems critical to the planet’s health, protected areas and surrounding vulnerable communities. This could also include responding to fires, hurricanes, species extinction, and other emergencies.

Recent examples of GWC’s rapid response initiatives include supporting local partners in the Amazon both in the midst of the 2019 catastrophic fires and during the pandemic this year, and supporting local partners in Australia during and after the bushfires in late 2019/early 2020.

“This year has shown that we are at a critical turning point for our planet and that we must choose to protect and restore wildlife and ecosystems, for their sake and for our own health,” DiCaprio said. “The current pandemic, devastating fires in the Amazon, Australia, the Congo, the larger and more frequent hurricanes in the Caribbean, and other environmental crises have shown that we must reset our relationship with nature. I am honored to work with Commissioner Urpilainen, the EU, and GWC to establish this fund to implement urgent conservation actions around the world.”

The COVID-19 crisis has resulted in a deficit in funding for protected areas around the world, since ecotourism is a vital source of revenue and tourism has slowed to a halt. Without the necessary resources to protect and manage places critical for wildlife, it has been clear that in some places COVID-19 has resulted in an uptick in illegal and environmentally destructive activities, such as poaching, mining, cattle ranching and wildlife trafficking. Rapid RESCUE will help bolster the resources available for protected areas and the local communities around them.

“Our planet’s biodiversity underpins healthy ecosystems, which are essential to a healthy planet for people and wildlife,” said Wes Sechrest, GWC chief scientist and CEO. “Only by investing in nature-based solutions, as GWC and the European Commission are doing, can we tackle the twin crises of wildlife extinction and climate change, and prevent future pandemics. The EU, which is the biggest contributor of biodiversity finance to developing countries, is helping lead the way in these global efforts.”

A second initiative, with another $4.4 million, will specifically support the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Virunga National Park, the most biodiverse protected area on the African continent. The initiative aims to expand the operational capacity of the park, support great new strides in habitat restoration and the reintroduction of wildlife species, and boost the park’s role in economic growth, peace and stability in eastern Congo.

“2020 has proven to be an extraordinarily difficult year for Virunga and in particular for the team on the ground,” said Emmanuel De Merode, director of Virunga National Park. “We have suffered tremendous loss, yet this partnership fosters renewed hope in the future and will enable us to maintain our critical work to protect the park, its wildlife and surrounding communities.”

Virunga is home to the famed mountain gorilla, which has bounced back from the brink of extinction but whose future is once again endangered, and more species of birds, reptiles, and mammals than any other protected area in the world. The park earned international acclaim thanks to a 2014 Oscar-nominated investigative documentary, VIRUNGA, which tells the story of the individuals protecting the park and the primary threats to its existence. DiCaprio served as executive producer.

Leonardo DiCaprio has been a long-time champion of global environmental issues including climate change, wildlife conservation, protecting biodiversity and more. He co-founded Earth Alliance, an organization created to activate and mobilize a global response to the urgent threats that our planet is facing. To date, through his philanthropic efforts, DiCaprio has provided more than $100 million in grants to a variety of programs and projects.

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Photo: A mountain gorilla baby at Virunga National Park. (Photo by Imaire Depoli)

Global Wildlife Conservation

GWC conserves the diversity of life on Earth by safeguarding wildlands, protecting wildlife and supporting guardians. We maximize our impact through scientific research, biodiversity exploration, habitat conservation, protected area management, wildlife crime prevention, endangered species recovery, and conservation leadership cultivation. Learn more at


Lindsay Renick Mayer

Global Wildlife Conservation


Devin Murphy

Global Wildlife Conservation


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