Virunga National Park in Congo

Virunga National Park is a national park positioned in the Albertine Rift Valley in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The park was created in 1925 and ranges in elevation of 680 m in the Semliki River valley to 5,109 m in the Rwenzori Mountains. It extends about 300 km north to south and largely along the international borders of Uganda and Rwanda in the east.

Virunga national park covers an area of approximately 8,090 square kilometers and encompasses the two active volcanoes – Mount Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira. These active volcanoes have shaped the national park’s diverse habitats and wildlife. The park is a home to more than 3,000 faunal and floral species of which about 300 are endemic to the Albertine Rift including the eastern gorilla and the golden monkeys.

Positioned in the Congo – Nile watershed area, the northern part of Virunga National Park covers part of Semliki River Basin as well as the savannah and montane forest of the Albertine Rift. The altitude of this part ranges from 680 m in the Puemba River valley to the highest peak of Mount Stanley at 5,109 m within 30 kilometers. Virunga National Park’s central part occupies about two thirds of Lake Edward up to the international border with Uganda in the east. The northern region of the park is contiguous with Uganda’s Semliki Park, the Rwenzori Mountains National Park and the central part with Queen Elizabeth National Park. The southern sector of the park borders Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park.

Virunga National Park was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 because of its rich diversity of habitats, endemism and its protection and conservation of the mountain gorilla habitat.

Flora of the park

Virunga National Park is a refugee camp to more than 2,077 plant species including 230 plants that are endemic to the Albertine Rift and 264 tree species. The plains of the park are dominated by wetlands and grasslands with papyrus sedge, jointed flat sedge, common reed, sacaton grasses, ambatch conkerberry, and paperbark thorn and kowai fruit. The park is also encompassed by the remains of dicots like the African caper, maerua species, wild cucurbits, and the nightshades which were found in the dung balls of the African Elephants.

Wildlife of the park

Virunga National Park encompasses a variety of faunal species including more than 196 mammals, 109 reptiles, 706 bird species and 65amphibians.

Mammal species

Virunga National Park is common for habituating the primate species especially the mountain gorillas. Other primates in the park include the common chimpanzees, the golden monkeys, red tailed monkeys, Dent’s Mona monkeys, blue monkeys, Hamlyn’s monkeys, De Brazza’s monkey, the Central African red colobus, olive baboons, grey cheeked mangabey, and mantled guereza.

Besides the primate species, Virunga National Park is a home to a variety of other mammal species including the African bush elephant, hippos, and the African buffalo and these inhabit the park’s central region. In the northern region, the park records the blue duiker, bay duiker, yellow backed duiker, okapi, red river hog, water chevrotain, aardvark and the bongo. In the southern part of the park, there are the giant forest hogs, and the harnessed bushbuck. The topis can be sighted in the south of Lake Edward in the Ishasha flat regions and these at many cases cross the border into Uganda. Other mammals in the park include the Uganda kobs, waterbuck and the common warthog.

Reptile species

Virunga National Park is encompasses part of River Semliki basin in its northern region. This river provides a home to a variety of Nile crocodiles and some of them can be spotted at the northern shore of Lake Edward.

Bird species

Virunga National Park more than 706 species of birds including the endemic birds of the Albertine Rift. Among these endemics include the Rwenzori batis, Rwenzori turaco, red throated alethe, kivu ground thrush, collared apalis, Archer’s ground robin, mountain masked apalis, red faced woodland warbler, Rwenzori double collared sunbird, strange weave, handsome spur fowl, blue headed sunbird and the stripe breasted tit. These birds were recorded in the park’s southern sector.

Among the non – endemic bird species in the park include the African goshawk, common buzzard, mountain buzzards, black and white casqued hornbill, black billed turaco, Wahlberg’s eagle, brown necked parrot, red chested cuckoo, barred long tailed cuckoo, white tailed crested flycatcher, white eyed slaty flycatcher, African dusty flycatcher, cardinal woodpecker, black saw wing, Angolan swallow, alpine swift, mountain greenbuls, yellow whiskered greenbuls, common bulbul, collared sunbird, mountain sooty boubou and many others.

Cultural people near the park

Virunga national park has a variety of ethnic groups that live in and around it. These people including the Mbuti, Hutu, Tutsi, and the Basongora people participate in different economic activities like farming, hunting and cattle rearing. During the visit, you will learn a lot of thing from them and also will get entertained by their cultural practices like dances, songs, poems and many others.