Virunga National Park
The Virunga National Park originally known as Albert National Park lies in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on the frontier with Uganda’s Rwenzori Mountains in the North and Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park in the East. The park is part of Lake Edward, 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.
The park was founded/established in 1925 by King Albert I of Belgium and designated UNESCO- World Heritage Site in the year 1979.It was primarily established to protect the mountain gorillas thriving in the forests of the Virunga Mountains controlled by the Belgian Congo, Today ,the park is under the management of the Congolese National Park Authorities; the Institute Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) and its partner the Virunga Foundation, formerly called the Africa Conservation Fund (UK).
Virunga National Park spanning on an approximated area of 78,000square kilometers consists of an outstanding diversity of natural habitats, ranging from the snowfields of Rwenzori at an altitude of over 5,000 m, and from lava plains, swamps and steppes to the savannahs on the slopes of volcanoes. The natural habitat support the thriving of Mountain gorillas and some 20,000 hippopotamuses which live in the rivers and birds from Siberia spend the winter there.
Virunga National Park is rare protected area with its active series/chains of volcanoes and rich diversity of natural habitats that surpass those of any other protected national park in African continent. Its range has a combination of savannas, steppes and plains, marshlands, low altitude and afro-montane forest belts to exclusive afro-alpine vegetation and permanent glaciers and snow on Monts Rwenzori whose peaks reach 5000 m height. The national park includes the splendid massifs of Rwenzori and Virunga Mountains consisting of the two main active volcanoes of Africa. The broad variety of habitats produces extraordinary biodiversity, notably endemic species which are globally threatened species such as the mountain gorilla.
Virunga National Park provides the most stunning montane landscapes in great African continent. Mt Rwenzori with its snow peaks and jagged reliefs, their cliffs and steep valleys, and the precious volcanoes of the Virunga massif occupied /covered with the rare afro-alpine vegetation of tree ferns and Lobelia and their slopes covered by dense forests are the places of prodigious natural beauty. The volcanoes, which erupt after every few years and also constitutes of the dominant land features of the exceptional landscape. The Park offers different other spectacular views of the eroded valleys in the Ishango and Sinda regions. The Park also has significant cluster of wildlife species like the African elephants, buffalo and Thomas cobs, and the enormous cluster of hippopotamuses in Africa, with 20,000 individual’s thriving on the banks of Lake Edward and along the Rwindi, Rutshuru and Semliki Rivers.
Virunga National Park possesses a very broad diversity of plants and habitats, making it the best African National Park for biological diversity. More than 2,000 premier plant species have been identified in the park, 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 also boasts of 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 the eastern plain gorilla and the eastern chimpanzee, with a third of the world population of mountain gorillas. The savannah sections of the Park have a wide number of ungulates and the density of biomass of wildlife which is assumed to be one of the highest on the earth Planet (27.6 ton/km2). Among the ungulates, there are certain rare animals such as the okapi, endemic to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the red forest duiker and endemic to Monts Rwenzori. The Park also consists of vital tropical zones relevant for the wintering of Palearctic avifauna. Some of the enormous wild animal clusters 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.
Useful links about Virunga National Park Congo