Virunga National Park, D.R Congo
The Virunga National Park (Parc National des Virunga) is the mother of all game parks in Africa as it was the continent’s first national park. It was established in 1925 and designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1979. It is situated in eastern Congo and borders other major national parks like Queen Elizabeth national park and Mt. Rwenzori national park in Uganda and the Volcanoes national park in Rwanda. The park covers an area of 7,800 square kilometers spanning from the Virunga Mountains in the south to the Rwenzori ranges in the north. This area can also be referred to as the Virunga Massif.
Formerly known as the Albert national park, this reserve is managed by the Congolese National park authorities together with the Virunga Foundation. The park is unparalleled in eco-systems and bio-diversity. It has beguiling landscapes of lush tropical forests, alpine forests, lava flows, savanna, marshlands and glaciers. It shelters extra bird, mammal and reptile species as compared to other conservation territories on this soft spoken continent. The park is renowned for being one of the remaining natural habitats for the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas. Hence the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Rwanda stand as the only nations where gorilla trekking safaris in Africa can be done.
One can also not only track gorillas in Congo but also enjoy a game drive while at the Virunga National Park. The park is home to both savanna and tropical forests, including forest elephants, chimpanzees, buffaloes, giraffes and the unique okapis. This wide range of fauna makes wildlife safaris to Congo among the most authentic trips one should have. Virunga is also home to several endemic birds making it a paradise for bird enthusiasts searching for interesting photographic and birding tours in Congo.
Virunga National park was created and initially named after King Albert I of Belgium with anterior motive to protect the mountain gorillas that were thriving in the area. The park has faced numerous setbacks that range from poaching and civil unrest that depleted Virunga’s wildlife populations including the rangers. It’s toughest test yet raised when 80% of the Virunga land was reportedly allocated for oil exploration. This ignited global condemnation and campaigns that yielded victory in 2014 when major exploration firm SOCO disbanded its operations in the area but the fight is far from over.
Currently Virunga is the best spot where one can admire the thrilling views of the Nyiragongo volcano that houses world’s biggest lava lake. The view is breathtaking and one can back it up with a gorilla trek as they discover and explore Africa. The figures today state that over 3000 tourists flock the park for gorilla trekking safaris and Nyiragongo hiking adventure tours which has boosted both development and conservation efforts in this diverse ecosystem.