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Take a Trip to Africa’s First National Park, Virunga



Parc National de Virunga, or the Virunga National Park, as it is called by English speaking tourists, used to be Albert National Park, but the name changed to reflect the mountains it lies at. The park is situated in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and it stretches between Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and Uganda’s Rwenzori Mountains National Park. The natural park covers three thousand square miles and is known to be the first national park ever to be opened in Africa, an event that happened in 1925. It is also a World Heritage Site, a title that it gained in 1979.

The Virunga National Park is mostly made up of marshlands, grasslands and plains. Towards the Ruwenzori Mountains, the landscape changes and you can see a glacier and alpine meadows. Lava plains are a common site, as Nyamuragira and Nyiragongo are still active volcanoes.

Mountain gorillas called this park home for many years, but poaching reduced their numbers and now they are rarely spotted. The European Union contributes with funds, and a long battle is underway to reduce poaching and re-establish the natural beauty of the park. The park also stretches around the shore of Lake Edward and, if you travel around the lake, you may be able to see hippos relaxing in the waters, although their numbers have also diminished a lot lately.

Unfortunately, the events taking place in the country have had a bad influence on the evolution of the park, and the numbers of mountain gorillas, while on the rise between 1994 and 2004, are now endangered again. All this has happened since the new forces took over the park in 2008, driving away the local rangers. Poaching and deforestation are the main enemies of mountain gorillas in this unwanted war.

Other species of animals living in the park are forest elephants, buffaloes, giraffes, different types of birds and chimpanzees. In the Mount Hoyo area, you may encounter the Bambuti Pygmy people, which live in the caves here.

Unfortunately, the current history of the park is not a happy one. Many park rangers were killed while fighting poachers and people trying to take over the land illegally. After the recent Battle of Goma, the army led by Laurent Nkunda now occupies the Virunga National Park. Since then, things have gone downhill and the best thing that could happen would be the political stability of the country.



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