The Virunga National Park is a 3,000 square miles (7,800 square kilometer) National Park that stretches right from the Virunga Mountains in the South, to Rwenzori Mountains in the North, in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and borders the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Queen Elizabeth National Park and Rwenzori Mountains National Park in Uganda. Virunga Park also known in French as Parc National des Virunga was formerly named as Albert National Park.
Virunga was set up in 1925 as the first national park in Africa and is a UNESCO-labeled World Heritage Site from 1979. Of recent, poaching and the Civil War in DR Congo have extremely spoiled its flora and fauna species. The park is run and managed by the Congolese National Park Authorities, Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) plus its partner the Virunga Foundation, previously branded as the Africa Conservation Fund (UK).
The park was established by King Albert I of Belgium in 1925 as the first national park on Africa. It was initiated mainly to safeguard the mountain gorillas in the Virunga Mountains forests controlled by the Belgian Congo and later extended north to include Rwindi Plains, Lake Edward plus the Rwenzori Mountains in the far-flung north.
The park boundary took shape in the first 35 years, poaching was contained to a least possible as sustainable tourism flourished as a result of work of several hand-picked Congolese dedicated wardens and park rangers. When Congo got independent in 1960, the new state worsened swiftly, as well as the park. In 1969, President Joseph Mobutu took individual interest in wildlife conservation and the park was rejuvenated. During Mobutu’s Africanization crusade, the park was named Virunga National Park a first Congolese Wildlife Authority was set up.
By that time, foreign ventures aided to improve Virunga’s infrastructure as well as training facilities, and it became a popular tourists’ destination with an average of 6500 tourists annually.
In the year 1979, UNESCO designated Virunga National Park, a World Heritage Site. In the years of 1980s when Congo started experiencing security challenges, the park suffered appallingly as poaching exhausted its large mammal inhabitants; infrastructures were devastated as many rangers were murdered. During this period, the Congolese Wildlife Authority bit by bit lost control of the park prompting UNESCO to change the status of being a World Heritage Site to an ‘Endangered’ site.
The World Wildlife Fund in 2013 brought concerns about plans by a UK-based company, Soco International to do oil exploration in the park. At present, over 80% of the park has been apportioned into oil concessions.
The Geography of the Park
Virunga National Park is unrivalled in its diversity of landscapes and ecosystems. The park is well-known for its extraordinary biological variety with more bird, reptile and mammal species compared to any protected area on the continent of Africa. Even though Mountain Gorillas are tremendously rare currently and recorded as among the most disparagingly endangered species, fruitful conservation efforts have managed to secure and conserve the remaining numbers. For over two decades of unrest, the gorilla populations essentially increased and have continuously surged up to the present day. The Mountain Gorilla census done 2010 indicated that the conservation approaches by the Virunga have been positive concerning the mountain Gorilla population.
On the other hand, forest and Savanna elephants, chimpanzees plus low land gorillas are still available in the Virunga. Other animal species include giraffes, Okapi, buffaloes and countless prevalent birds.