Virunga National Park in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located on the border of Uganda and Rwanda. Virunga National Park is the oldest national park in Africa and has the biggest population of mammals, birds and reptiles in the African continent. It covers an area 7800Km2 (3000 square miles) (790,000 ha), that includes forests, savannas, lava plains, swamps, erosion valleys, active volcanoes, and the astonishing glaciated peaks of Rwenzori mountains. The only park in the globe that hosts three taxa of Great Apes, Virunga national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo is most famous for housing up to about a quarter of the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas, and the other two Great Ape species, the eastern lowland Grauer’s gorillas and chimpanzees. Virunga National park is also home to the Okapi, a threatened species that resembles a zebra but is more closely related to the giraffe. Large colonies of hippopotami, forest and savanna elephants, lions, and numerous rare bird species can also be found in the park.
The History of Virunga National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo
Virunga National Park was established as the first national park on the continent of Africa by King Albert I of Belgium in 1925 formally known as the Albert National Park. The park was mainly created to protect the vanishing mountain gorillas living in the Virunga Montane forests, controlled by the Belgian Congo. The park was later extended far north wards to comprise the Rwindi Plains, Lake Edward and the Rwenzori Mountains. After Congo independence from Belgium in 1960, the park started declining rapidly due to state deterioration. It was until the influx of President Mobutu into Congo`s leadership in 1969, who took personal interest in conservation and he so revived the Virunga national park. In the process of President Mobutu’s Africanization campaign, the first Congolese Wildlife Authority was established. In 1970s, the park became a popular destination for tourists, receiving an average of 6500 visitors a year and in 1979 UNESCO declared Virunga National park as a World Heritage Site.
The Geography of Virunga National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo
Virunga National Park in Congo is unbeatable in its diversity of landscapes and ecosystems, comprising of three sectors;
The northern sector of the Virunga National Park features eternal snow-caped Rwenzori Mountains bordering Uganda, the Alpine forest, the Riverine lowland forest, African Savanna and the lake shores. Snowmelt from Rwenzori Mountains is one of the primary sources of the Nile River. The Okapis also known as forest giraffe or Zebra giraffe can be found living along the Semliki River valley below.
The central sector is defined by the lake shores, Riverine forest, Marshland and African Savanna, Lake Edward has over 50 species of fish and a variety of bird species. The lake shores and the adjacent Ishasha river valley are home to the park’s high hippo population, the Rwindi plains is the Virunga national Park`s highest concentration of elephants, herds of buffalos, warthogs, and topis.
The southern sector is the most visited famous for its worldly endangered mountain gorillas in the borders of Mt. Mikeno, a dormant volcano (4380m) above sea level. The southern sector of Virunga national park is covered by the dense forests which make it an ideal home for chimpanzees and various monkey species.
The western side of the valley is the dormant Nyiragongo volcano (3470m/11,382 ft), whose top provides the spectacular views of the world`s largest lava lake. Also in the north in the Nyamulagira Volcano-Africa`s most active volcano with recent eruptions which occurred in January 2010 and November 2011.