Virunga National Park

Virunga National Park (covering an area of 790,000 ha) comprises an outstanding diversity of habitats, ranging from swamps and steppes to the snowfields of Rwenzori at an altitude of over 5,000 m, and from lava plains to the savannahs on the slopes of volcanoes. Mountain gorillas are found in the park, some 20,000 hippopotamuses live in the rivers and birds from Siberia spend the winter there.

Virunga National Park is notable for its chain of active volcanoes and the greatest diversity of habitats of any park in Africa: from steppes, savannas and lava plains, swamps, lowland and Afromontane forests, to the unique Afroalpine vegetation and icefields of the Ruwenzori mountains, which culminate in peaks above 5000m. The site includes the spectacular Ruwenzori and Virunga Massifs, including Africa's two most active volcanoes. The great diversity of habitats harbors an exceptional biodiversity, including endemic as well as rare and globally endangered species, such as the mountain gorilla.

Criterion (vii) : Virunga National Park presents some of the most dramatic mountain scenery in Africa. The rugged Ruwenzori mountains with their snowcapped peaks and steep slopes and valleys and the volcanoes of the Virunga Massif, both with Afroalpine vegetation with giant heathers and Lobelias and densely forested slopes, are areas of exceptional natural beauty. The active volcanoes, which erupt every few years, form the dominant landforms of the exceptional scenery. The park contains several other spectacular landscapes such as the erosion valleys of the Sinda and Ishango areas. The park also contains great concentrations of wildlife, including elephants, buffalo and Uganda kob, and the highest concentration of hippopotamus in Africa, with 20,000 individuals on the shores of Lake Edward and along the Rwindi, Rutshuru and Semliki rivers.

Criterion (viii) : Virunga National Park is situated at the heart of the Albertine Rift sector of the Great Rift Valley. In the southern section of the park, tectonic activity resulting from crustal extension of this area gave rise to the Virunga Massif, composed of eight volcanoes, of which seven are situated or partly situated in the park. These include Africa's two most active volcanoes, Nyamuragira and the neighbouring Nyiragongo, which alone account for two-fifths of the historical volcanic eruptions on the African continent. They are especially notable because of their highly fluid alkaline lavas. The activity of Nyiragongo is globally significant for its demonstration of lava lake volcanism, with a quasi-permanent lava lake at the bottom of its crater, periodic draining of which has been catastrophic to the local communities. The northern section of the park includes around 20% of the Rwenzori Massif, the largest glaciated area in Africa and the only truly alpine mountain range on the continent, and adjoins the Rwenzori National Park World Heritage Site in Uganda, with which it shares Mount Margherita, the third highest peak in Africa (5109m).

Criterion (x) : Due to its variation in altitude (ranging between 680m and 5109m), rainfall and soils, Virunga National Park contains a very high diversity of plants and habitats, resulting in the highest biological diversity of any national park in Africa. More than 2000 higher plants have been identified, of which 10% are endemic to the Albertine Rift. Approximately 15% of the vegetation are Afromontane forests. The Albertine Rift has also more endemic vertebrate species than any other region of mainland Africa, an important number of which can be found in the park. The park harbors 218 mammal species, 706 bird species, 109 reptile species and 78 amphibian species. The park is home to 22 species of primates, including three great ape species (mountain gorilla Gorilla beringei beringei, eastern lowland gorilla Gorilla beringei graueri and eastern chimpanzee Pan troglodytes schweinfurthi), with one third of the remaining mountain gorilla population in the world. The savanna areas of the park are home to a diverse population of ungulates, with one of the highest biomass densities of wild mammals ever recorded on Earth (314 tonnes/km2 ). Ungulates include the rare Okapi (Okapi johnstoni), endemic to the DRC, and the Ruwenzori duiker (Cephalophus rubidus), endemic to the Ruwenzori mountains. The park contains significant wetland areas, particularly important as wintering grounds for Palearctic bird species.

The park lies in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on the border with Uganda and Rwanda, and includes part of Lake Edward (Idi Amin), 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. Lake Edward belongs to the Nile river system and Lake Kivu to the Congo Basin river system.

Features include hot springs in the Rwindi plains and the Virunga Massif volcanoes, such as Nyamulagira (3,068 m) and Nyiragongo (3,470 m), are still active. The areas of lowest and highest rainfall in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are in Virunga National Park.

The considerable altitudinal range results in marked climatic variations which affect the overall biological and geographical diversity of habitats. Habitat types include lakes at various altitudes, marshy deltas and peat bogs, savannahs and lava plains, low altitude equatorial forest, high-altitude glaciers, and snowfields (the Rwenzori peaks have permanent snow cover).

Located at the border between several biogeographic zones, the park protects both tropical rainforest and eastern steppe species, and its range of altitudes adds to the habitat variety. The diversity includes: bamboo and Hagenia forest on the mountains; equatorial forest along the Semiliki; wooded savannah of the Rwindi; steppes; various low savannahs; swamps and transitional habitats; dry thick forest; Neoboutonia macrocalyx forest on the lava plains; wet thick forest; alpine forests; and sparse vegetation above 4,300 m comprising mainly lichens and spermatophyta, although Graminae have been found growing at over 5,000 m.

Some of the largest wild animal concentrations 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.

Established in 1925 as Albert National Park (809,000ha); revised by Decree No. 69-041 of 22 August 1969 as Virunga National Park. Designated as a World Heritage site in 1979.


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