The Virunga National Park.

Virunga National Park (covering an area of 790,000 ha) is located on the African continent in Democratic Republic of the Congo also known as Congo DR at the centre of the Albertine Rift, of the Great Rift Valley.

In the southern part of the Park, tectonic activity due to the extension of the earth’s crust in this region has caused the emergence of the Virunga massif, comprising eight volcanoes, seven of which are located, totally or partially, in the Park.

Among them, are the two most active volcanoes of Africa-Nyamuragira and nearby Nyiragongo – which between them are responsible for two-fifths of the historic volcanic eruptions on the African continent and which are characterized by the extreme fluidity of the alkaline lava.

The activity of Nyiragongo is of world importance as a witness to volcanism of a lava lake: the bottom of its crater is in fact filled by a lake of quasi permanent lava that empties periodically with catastrophic consequences for the local communities.

The northern sector of the Park includes about 20% of the massif of Monts Rwenzori-the largest glacial region of Africa and the only true alpine mountain chain of the continent. It borders the Rwenzori Mountains National Park of Uganda, inscribed as World Heritage, with which it shares the‘Pic Marguerite’, third highest summit of Africa (5,109m).

Due to its variations in altitude (from 680m to 5,109m), rainfall and nature of the ground, Virunga National Park possesses a very wide diversity of plants and habitats, making it the top African National Park for biological diversity.

More than 2,000 premier plant species have been identified, of which 10% are endemic to the Albertine Rift. The afro-montane forests represent about 15% of the vegetation. The Rift Albertine also contains more endemic vertebrate species than any other region of the African continent and the Park possesses numerous examples of them.

The Park contains 218 mammal species, 706 bird species, 109 reptile species and 78 amphibian species. It also serves as refuge to 22 primate species of which three are the great ape-mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei), the eastern plain gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri) and the eastern chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthi), with a third of the world population of mountain gorillas.

The savannah zones of the Park contain a diverse population of ungulates and the density of biomass of wildlife is one of the highest on the earth Planet (27.6 ton/km2). Among the ungulates, there are certain rare animals such as the okapi (Okapi johnstoni), endemic to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the red forest duiker (Cephalophus rubidus), endemic to Monts Rwenzori. The Park also comprises important tropical zones essential for the wintering of Palearctic avifauna.

The Park is characterized by a mosaic of extraordinary habitats that extend over 790,000 ha. The property is clearly delineated by the 1954 Ordinance. The wealth is well protected despite the economic and demographic challenges to its periphery.

The Park contains two highly important ecological corridors as it connects the different respective sectors: the Muaro corridor connects the Mikeno sector to the Nyamulagira sector; the west side connects the north sector to the centre sector of the Virunga massif. The presence of the Queen Elizabeth National Park, a protected area contiguous with Uganda, also constitutes an ecological land corridor connecting the centre and north sectors. Also, Lake Edward(Idi Amin) forms an important aquatic corridor.

The property has benefited from the status of National Park since 1925. Its management authority is the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN).

The park lies in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on the border with Uganda and Rwanda, and includes part of Lake Edward (Idi Amin), the Semliki River valley, parts of the Rwindi, Ishasha and Rutshuru valleys south of the lake, the Virunga area within the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and part of the Rwenzori range. Lake Edward belongs to the Nile river system and Lake Kivu to the Congo Basin river system.

Features include hot springs in the Rwindi plains and the Virunga Massif volcanoes, such as Nyamulagira (3,068 m) and Nyiragongo (3,470 m), are still active. The areas of lowest and highest rainfall in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are in Virunga National Park.

The considerable altitudinal range results in marked climatic variations which affect the overall biological and geographical diversity of habitats. Habitat types include lakes at various altitudes, marshy deltas and peat bogs, savannahs and lava plains, low altitude equatorial forest, high-altitude glaciers, and snowfields (the Rwenzori peaks have permanent snow cover).

Located at the border between several biogeographic zones, the park protects both tropical rainforest and eastern steppe species, and its range of altitudes adds to the habitat variety. The diversity includes: bamboo and Hagenia forest on the mountains; equatorial forest along the Semiliki; wooded savannah of the Rwindi; steppes; various low savannahs; swamps and transitional habitats; dry thick forest;Neoboutonia macrocalyx forest on the lava plains; wet thick forest; alpine forests; and sparse vegetation above 4,300 m comprising mainly lichens and spermatophyta, although Graminae have been found growing at over 5,000m.

Some of the largest wild animal concentrations in Africa occur along the rivers of the park. Mammals in the savannah of the Rwindi area include: elephant, hippopotamus, buffalo, numerous antelope including kob, defassa waterbuck and topi, warthog, lion and various monkeys. Large numbers of pelicans occur on the lower Rutshuru. In the Semiliki Valley and on the slopes of the Virunga mountains are gorilla, chimpanzee and okapi. In the extreme north are forest hog and bongo. Birds include Nahan’s francolin, forest ground thrush, shoebill and probably papyrus yellow warbler.

On a final note but more sadly, the Park isn’t headed by an African but by one Emmanuel de Merode, a Belgian-born British-educator and also about 60% of the Park is to make way for oil exploration.


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