Virunga National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Virunga National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

2017
07.31.2018
Rangers Project
On #WorldRangerDay, we are so proud of the efforts of our rangers, who show dedication and resilience, despite the dangers they face.

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07.22.2018
Ephrem Balole, Manager of Virunga SARL, receives his PhD
Congratulations to Ephrem Balole, Manager of Virunga SARL, who received his PhD from the University of Kinshasa last week! Ephrem has been r...

Explore EPHREM BALOLE, MANAGER OF VIRUNGA SARL, RECEIVES HIS PHD

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06.06.2018
Rangers Project
We are so proud that Jolie, one of Virunga’s female rangers, shared her story of what motivated her to become a ranger at the European Devel...

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06.05.2018
Fallen Rangers Project
Representatives from the Rumangabo Widows sewing workshop attended the European Development Days conference in Brussels, where they showcase...

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05.31.2018
Virunga coffee launches!
One for the coffee fans out there: every purchase of Higher Grounds' Kawa Kanzururu Coffee goes towards supporting the development work of V...

Explore VIRUNGA COFFEE LAUNCHES!

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05.31.2018
Rangers Project
We are so delighted to share the news that the mountain gorilla population has surpassed 1000! Incredible news for Virunga and incredible news for conservation, and testament to the continued work of Virunga's Rangers in ensuring the protection of the species.

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02.13.2018
Fallen Rangers Fund
Children of the fallen Rangers playing in the child care center at the widows workshop! On-site child care reduces the initial stressors tha...

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12.05.2017
Fallen Rangers Fund
A total of 68 widows and 190 children of fallen Rangers, are now, thanks to the Fallen Rangers Fund, being offered financial support, education, and meaningful employment.

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09.11.2017
Rangers Project
Today, Park Rangers along with the Gorilla Doctors team successfully located the Rugendo group and removed a deadly snare from the arm of yo...

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07.30.2017
Rangers Project
Happy World Ranger Day! We are extremely proud and grateful to all our Rangers. These men and women are deeply committed to Virunga and ensu...

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07.29.2017
Rangers Project
Last week marked the completion of 5 months of incredibly tough training for Virunga's newest Rangers. 6500 applied, 81 made it through.

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01.12.2017
Fallen Rangers Fund
A beautiful selection of napkins made by the widows of fallen Rangers are on sale at Mikeno Lodge.

Explore FALLEN RANGERS FUND

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Photo Credit: Brent Stirton; Logo Credit: David Shepard

Photo Credit: Adam Kiefer; Logo Credit: David Shepard

Photo credit: Brent Stirton; Logo credit: David Shepard

Photo credit: Brent Stirton; Logo credit: David Shepard

Photo credit: Orlando von Einsiedel

Photo credit: Brent Stirton; Logo credit: David Shepard

Welcome to Virunga National Park

Explore Africa’s oldest and most biologically diverse protected area

About Virunga

Learn more

The Virunga Alliance

Stability through sustainable development in eastern Congo

Virunga Alliance

Learn more

Rangers Project

Meet the heroes who risk their lives to protect the Park's wildlife and local communities

Rangers Project

Learn more

Orphan Gorillas Project

Meet the orphan gorillas of Virunga's Senkwekwe Center

Gorilla Orphan Project

Learn more

01

Welcome to Africa’s oldest National Park

Virunga National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site internationally recognized for its wildlife and habitats. Explore one of the most biodiverse protected areas in the world.

About Virunga National Park

Virunga National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Virunga is the continent’s most biologically diverse protected area and a national park embarking on an ambitious development programme known as the “Virunga Alliance”.


Situated in a region which has been deeply impacted by the effects of war and armed conflict for over 20 years, Virunga is protected by a dedicated team of over 600 Rangers. These local men and women go through intensive training, risking their lives on a daily basis to safeguard the Park’s exceptional wildlife, including the last of the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas.

Alongside this essential conservation work, the Park is committed to supporting local communities. Virunga has a vision for responsibly harnessing the Park’s natural resources to create new opportunities for the four million people that live within a day’s walk of its borders.


Focussing on three key areas: hydropower, sustainable agriculture and fisheries, and tourism, Virunga National Park is working to economically transform the region - creating jobs and reducing poverty rates. This innovative, community focussed approach to conservation is working to reduce the pressures currently faced by the Park’s Rangers from armed groups, illegal poaching, and land encroachment. Click here to learn more about the work of the Virunga Alliance.

Biodiversity at a Glance

Mammal Species

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Virunga’s most prominent mammals include forest and savanna elephants, hippos, okapis, lions, and mountain gorillas.

Bird Species

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706

The number of bird species in Virunga exceeds the total number in the U.S. and is more than three times the number in the U.K.

Reptile Species

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109

Virunga's recorded number of reptile species makes it the richest of the protected areas in Africa.

Amphibian Species

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78

Virunga has the highest number of amphibian species in the Albertine Rift, an area which encompasses parts of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania.

Primate Species

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Three of Virunga’s primate species are great apes – the mountain gorilla, eastern lowland gorilla, and eastern chimpanzee.

Mammals

Birds

Habitats

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Mountain Gorilla

Around one third of the world population of critically endangered mountain gorillas live in the lush volcanic forests of Virunga National Park.


Mountain gorillas, a subspecies of the eastern gorilla, are shy and gentle creatures that live in groups of 2 to 30 individuals. They are led by one dominant, elder male known as the silverback who can be identified by a grey strip of hair on his back.


Mountain gorillas are characterized by longer hair, teeth, and jaws, but shorter arms than their lowland gorilla cousins.


Their diet is made up of at least 142 plant species - primarily leaves, stems, and shoots and a few fruits. A female adult gorilla can consume more than 40 pounds (18 kilograms) of vegetation per day and a male more than 75 pounds (34 kilograms).


Photo credit: Brent Stirton

Eastern Lowland Gorilla

The endangered eastern lowland gorilla, also known as the Grauer’s gorilla, is a sub-species of the eastern gorilla that resides in the lowland tropical rainforests of eastern Congo.


These gorillas live in a small isolated forest called Mount Tshiaberimu, just 77 square kilometers in size, northwest of Lake Edward.


They are the largest of the four gorilla sub-species. Eastern lowland gorillas are distinguished from other sub-species of gorillas by their stocky body, large hands, and short snout. They subsist mainly on fruit and hundreds of different plant species.


Photo credit: ShutterStock

Forest and Savanna Elephant

Both savanna elephants and forest elephants reside in Virunga National Park, making it one of the few places in the world where both species co-exist.


Savanna elephants are larger than forest elephants, and can also be distinguished by their curved tusks and large ears. They travel in large groups, which consist of multiple family units that can reach up to several hundred individuals.


Forest elephants, on the other hand, are very elusive and travel in small family groups of just a few individuals.


Photo credit: Brent Stirton

Hippopotamus

Hippos, which can weigh up to 4,400 pounds (almost 2,000 kilograms), make their home in many different rivers, lakes, and pools throughout Virunga.


The placement of the hippo's eyes and nostrils, located on the top of its head, allow them to stay mostly submerged under water for nearly 16 hours a day. This helps the hippo to remain cool in the hot African sun. When on the shore, hippos secrete a red oily substance which acts as skin moisturizer and sunblock, which is also said to have antibiotic properties.


At night, when the temperatures are cooler, hippos leave the water to graze, where they can consume nearly 80 pounds (36 kilograms) of grass.


Photo credit: Adam Kiefer

Chimpanzee

Chimpanzees are an endangered species and one of the four species of great apes. Like humans, chimps communicate with facial expressions, gestures, and sounds.


Chimps primarily eat plants and fruit but have been known to consume insects, eggs, and meat. Most of their eating and sleeping is done in trees.


Chimps live in social communities of several dozen individuals and can be found throughout Africa's rain forests, woodlands, and grasslands.


98% of our DNA is shared with chimpanzees making them our closest living relative. They are one of the few animal species that have been found using tools and have also been taught to use basic sign language.


Photo credit: Virunga National Park

Okapi

Okapis are shy and solitary animals that resemble zebras but are more closely related to the giraffe and are endemic to the DRC.


They reside in dense cover along the Semliki River valley where they feast on leaves, fungi, and fruit.


Okapis are best known for their striking coat of deep brown, pale white on the sides of the face, and black and white horizontal stripes down the hind legs and buttock. Despite their unusual appearance, wild Okapis are rarely seen by humans, and are extremely elusive animals.


They produce low-frequency infrasonic calls at around 14 Hz, undetectable by the human ear.


Photo credit: iStock by Getty Images

Lion

Lions are carnivores that consume a wide variety of prey, from wildebeest, impala, zebra, giraffe, buffalo and wild hogs to the occasional rhino, hippo, or elephant when food is scarce. They will also feed on smaller animals such as hares, birds, and reptiles.


Lions live in large family units called prides that may include up to three males, a dozen or so females, and their young. Whilst male lions are the protectors of the pride, it is the female lions that act as primary hunters, working in teams to ambush their prey.


Lions can be found in the grasslands, scrub, or open woodlands of Virunga National Park.


Photo credit: iStock by Getty Images

Buffalo

Savanna buffalo are large, heavy animals that can weigh up to 2,000 pounds (over 900 kilograms).


Buffalos have an herbivorous diet, grazing mainly on large quantities of green grass. They can live in herds of a few hundred to a few thousand with females and offspring making up the majority of the group.


A buffalo's coat is black, except for young calves, whose coats may be either black or brown. Virunga’s highest population of buffalo can be found roaming the Rwindi plains in the Park’s Central Sector.


Photo credit: Greg Homel/Natural Encounters Birding

Rwenzori Duiker

The endangered Rwenzori duiker or Rwenzori red duiker is a stocky, small antelope endemic to the alpine zones of the Rwenzori mountains.


Their name comes from their reddish-brown coat. The Rwenzori duiker’s feeding patterns vary as they have been found feeding on open rocky slopes as well as under dense, boggy coverage.


They weigh around 33 pounds (15 kilograms) and have short, prong-like horns around 3 inches (8 cm) long. The Rwenzori duiker can be found in the Northern Sector of Virunga National Park.


Photo credit: iStock by Getty Images

The Grey Crowned-Crane

The grey crowned crane can be found in the wetlands, open grasslands, savannas, and cultivated areas and tropical lowland forests near the Ishasha River and Rwindi River.


The crowned crane stands at over 3 feet (1 meter) tall, with predominantly grey plumage, white and black wings, a bright red gular pouch, and a crown of golden feathers.


There are an estimated 30,000 individuals left in the wild. Of the population, 12,000 reside in South Africa and 18,000 in East Africa.


Photo credit: Greg Homel/Natural Encounters Birding

African Fish Eagle

African fish eagles are birds of prey that live in the waterways of sub-Saharan Africa.


They consume mainly fish but have been known to consume carrion, birds, monkeys and even crocodile hatchlings when prey is scarce.


The female, with a wingspan of up to 8 feet (2.4 meters), is larger than the male. Adult African fish eagles have mostly brown bodies with a white head and yellow face and large, powerful, black wings.


Photo credit: Greg Homel/Natural Encounters Birding

Shoebill

Shoebills can be found in the swamps and marshes of Virunga's Central Sector near Lake Edward, the Ishasha River, and the Rwindi River.


Shoebills are tall, stork-like birds with wing spans that can reach over 8 feet (2.4 meters).


Shoebills prefer to hunt in poorly oxygenated and shallow waters where fish are closer to the surface, using their razor sharp beaks to catch their prey.


They are solitary creatures who remain isolated except when threatened or breeding.


Photo credit: Greg Homel/Natural Encounters Birding

Great Blue Turaco

The great blue turaco is the largest member of the turaco family. They eat mostly fruit, but also feed on buds, shoots, leaves, flowers, and insects.


Great blues are shy and rarely descend to the ground except for drinking and bathing.


Photo credit: Greg Homel/Natural Encounters Birding

Nyiragongo Volcano

Nyiragongo is an active stratovolcano that features the world’s largest lava lake at 700 feet (213 meters) across and reaches 11,380 feet (3,470 meters) in height.


The volcano’s forested lower slopes are home to a variety of animals, including chimpanzees, monkeys, and bushbuck. Nyiragongo’s summit rim is largely devoid of vegetation and is sometimes dusted with snow.


Because of the high silica content of its lava, Nyiragongo’s lava flows are extremely fluid. During the 2002 eruption, some of Nyiragongo’s lava flows were clocked at 62 miles per hour (100 kilometers per hour) and reached all the way to Lake Kivu.


Photo credit: Brent Stirton

Nyamuragira Volcano

Nyamuragira volcano, situated around 15 miles (25 kilometers) north of Lake Kivu, has been described as one of Africa's most active volcanoes.


It erupts on average every two years. Nyamuragira is a high-potassium basaltic shield volcano with an elevation of 10,033 feet (3,058 meters). Satellite images showed hotspots at Nyamuragira volcano in early 2017, indicating ongoing eruptions.


Photo credit: Brent Stirton

Rwenzori Mountains

Located on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Rwenzoris, or “Mountains of the Moon”, are the third highest mountain chain in Africa.


At a height of 16,761 feet (5,109 meters), the Rwenzori mountains feature the largest glaciers left on the African continent — making this area, populated by glaciers-fed rivers, waterfalls and lakes, one of Africa's most beautiful alpine landscapes.


Photo credit: Brad Clement/Spindrift Adventures

Mount Mikeno

Mount Mikeno is an extinct volcano located in the Virunga Mountains.


At 14,557 feet (4,437 meters) Mount Mikeno is the second highest peak in the Virunga mountains and the 13th highest mountain of Africa. The slopes of Mount Mikeno play host to a number of Virunga's critically endangered mountain gorilla families.


Photo credit: Virunga National Park

Lake Edward

Lake Edward, one of the most fertile lakes in Africa, is home to numerous bird, fish, and mammal species.


On any given day, its shores abound with hippos, elephants, crocodiles, and chimpanzees.


The lake lies over 3000 feet (916 meters) above sea level and covers a surface area of 224,083 hectares, making it the 15th largest lake in Africa. Lake Edward is a vital resource for local fishermen.


Photo credit: Virunga National Park

Rwindi Plains

Surrounded by the mountains and home to Lake Edward, this large expanse of grassland and wooded savanna plays host to the Park’s highest concentrations of elephants, buffalos and warthogs.


These savannas and woodlands contain many different types of grasses and trees. This variation is determined by a number of factors such as the soil type, soil depth, animals and invertebrates in the area, and minerals within the soil.


Photo credit: Virunga National Park

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02

Explore Virunga National Park

The Park's 3,000 square miles (7,800 square kilometers) is comprised of three sectors - northern, central, and southern - each with an unrivaled diversity of landscapes and ecosystems.

Map of Virunga National Park

Situated in the center of the Albertine Rift, between Uganda and Rwanda, Virunga’s 7,800 square kilometers (3,000 square miles) stretches from the Virunga Massif in the south, to the Rwenzori Mountains in the north.

The central sector is based around Lake Edward, the Ishasha river valley and the Rwindi plains.


Virunga’s southern sector is best known for its montane tropical forests, active volcanoes, and the mountain gorillas that live on the flanks of the dormant Mikeno volcano.

01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 A B C D E F G H I NORTHERN SECTOR CENTRAL SECTOR SOUTHERN SECTOR T SHIABERIMU MOSENDA ISHANGO KASINDI PORT MUTSORA DJUMA PUEMBA NYALEKE LULIMBI L UN Y A SENGE KIBIRIZI KABARAZA T ONGO BURUNGU KILOLIRWE BUKIMA DJOMBA KINGI KIBATI RUMANGABO MUGUNGA RWINDI T A L Y A GOMA MUSANZE RUTSHURU KABALE LUBERO BUTEMBO KASESE BENI OISHA KAMANGO MUTWANGA LIBOKORA KASINDI KATWE MWEYA KIAVINYONGE NYAKAKOMA KAMANDE VITSHUMBI ISHASHA S ARAM B WE RUHIJA MABENGA B AMBU KASALI RUBARE MUSHARI BIBWE MASISI S AKE K ORA KIBUMBA KAKOMERO BUNAGANA NYAMITWITWI L UO F O KANYABAYONGA MIKENO LODGE BUKIMA NYIRAGONGO T CH E GERA KIBUMBA NYIRAGONGOTREK T CH E GERA ISLAND GORILLATREK CHIMPANZEE WALK RWENZORI MOUNTAINS DR CONGO UGANDA LAKEEDWARD R WEN Z ORI MOUN T AINS RWANDA
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Accommodations

Treks

Cities

Village

Patrol Posts

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Park Area

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Water

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Roads

03

The History of Virunga National Park

Virunga National Park was founded in 1925 as Parc Albert. It was the first national park to be established on the continent of Africa, primarily to protect the mountain gorillas living in the forests of the Virunga Massif.

Park History & Creation

When it was first established, Virunga National Park was originally comprised of just three mountains but was later expanded northward to include the Rwindi plains, Lake Edward and the Rwenzori “Mountains of the Moon”.


In 1969, following the country’s independence from Belgium in 1960, the Park was renamed Virunga National Park. Ten years later in 1979, Virunga was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Over the past 20 years, Virunga has seen many periods of conflict, often beginning in or around the Park. Eastern Congo is one of the most economically disadvantaged places on earth, and competition for the Park’s rich natural resources has always been fierce.

In 2008, the Congolese National Parks Authority, (Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature, ICCN), and the Virunga Foundation (then known as the Africa Conservation Foundation), entered into a partnership to manage the Park.


This partnership initiated a comprehensive reform program and planted the seed for what would become the Virunga Alliance - an innovative development programme to address the root causes of poverty and conflict, with the aim of eradicating illegal and destructive resource extraction in the region.


Learn more about the history of Virunga National Park by exploring the timeline below.

  • 1925
    Africa's First National Park
  • 1969
    Parc Albert is Renamed
  • 1979
    UNESCO Designation
  • 1990
    Poaching Increases
  • 1994
    Conflict and Displacement
  • 1994
    World Heritage in Danger
  • 1995
    Mountain Gorillas Poached
  • 1996
    Congolese Civil War
  • 2001
    Silverback Poached
  • 2002
    Nyiragongo Erupts
  • 2003
    Fighting Continues
  • 2006
    Mass Killing of Hippos
  • 2007
    Gorilla Massacre
  • 2008
    Strengthening Efforts
  • 2009
    The Senkwekwe Centre
  • 2011
    The Virunga Alliance
  • 2012
    M23 Rebellion
  • 2013
    Oil Exploration
  • 2014
    Tourism Relaunched
  • 2015
    Matebe Hydro-Electric Plant
  • 2017
    Smart Grid Technology
  • Present Day
    Continued Work
1925
Africa's First National Park
The Park is founded as Parc Albert, the first national park to be established on the African continent. It is founded primarily to protect the mountain gorillas living in the forests of the Virunga Massif.
1969
Parc Albert is Renamed
To mark Congolese independence from colonialism, Parc Albert is renamed Virunga National Park.
1979
UNESCO Designation
Virunga National Park is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and receives an average of 6,500 visitors per year.

Photo credit: Virunga National Park

1990
Poaching Increases
Fuelled by subsistence and profit-driven poaching, rebel groups launch attacks on patrol posts in the Northern Sector of the Park. Poaching intensifies and continues to impact the Park for several years.

Photo credit: LuAnne Cadd

1994
Conflict and Displacement
The Rwandan genocide causes nearly two million refugees to flee the country. Over 90% of refugees settle within walking distance of Park borders. The rapid population surge causes environmental damage, and Virunga’s Rangers struggle to protect the forests.

Photo credit: Brent Stirton

1994
World Heritage in Danger
Virunga National Park is placed on the list of endangered World Heritage sites.

Photo credit: Brent Stirton

1995
Mountain Gorillas Poached
Disorder spreads across the Park's Southern Sector. Poachers murder four mountain gorillas, making this the first time in 10 years that a mountain gorilla had been poached within Park borders.

Photo credit: Brent Stirton

1996
Congolese Civil War
Regional conflict spills over and an estimated 5.6 million Congolese die from the fighting.

Photo credit: Brent Stirton

2001
Silverback Poached
A conflict between rebel and army forces results in the untimely death of the silverback of the Rugendo family.

Photo credit: Virunga National Park

2002
Nyiragongo Erupts
January 17, Nyiragongo volcano erupts spreading lava through the city of Goma. 400,000 people are evacuated and 147 are killed in the eruption.

Photo credit: Brent Stirton

2003
Fighting Continues
In April, in an effort to end the war, a peace agreement is signed by government and rebel forces. Still, military and rebel forces remain in eastern Congo and continue fighting as well as poaching and cutting down trees.

Photo credit: Virunga National Park

2006
Mass Killing of Hippos
Mass killings of nearly 400 hippos are orchestrated by local militia who are suspected of eating and selling the meat and removing teeth for ivory. Only 629 hippos remain in the Park, a 98% decrease from the 30,000 of the 1960s and 1970s.

Photo credit: Brent Stirton

2007
Gorilla Massacre
Six mountain gorillas from the Rugendo family are murdered. This powerful image of the silverback Senkwekwe brought global attention to this horrific event.

Photo credit: Brent Stirton

2008
Strengthening Efforts
The gorilla massacres catalyzed a groundswell of efforts to protect Virunga. The Park’s governance structure is strengthened, and newly appointed staff negotiate access to the gorilla sector despite it being controlled by rebels.

Photo credit: LuAnne Cadd

2009
The Senkwekwe Centre
In direct response to the massacres, the Senkwekwe Centre is established to care for the orphans of the massacre. The Centre is the only one of its kind in the world.

Photo credit: Virunga National Park

2011
The Virunga Alliance
The ICCN and Virunga Foundation enter into a long term management agreement. Their ambitious peace-building program aims to create 100,000 jobs, providing young Congolese with viable alternatives to conflict-related activities.

Photo credit: Orlando von Einsiedel

2012
M23 Rebellion
The M23 Rebellion erupts in and around the Park. Virunga staff are caught in the fighting, but maintain their presence and eventually negotiate Park access to protect the mountain gorillas.

Photo credit: LuAnne Cadd

2013
Oil Exploration
Oil exploration threatens the Park, sparking deep concerns from the international community. Communities around Lake Edward are fearful of the impact of potential oil activity on their livelihoods.

Photo credit: LuAnne Cadd

2014
Tourism Relaunched
Tourism is relaunched in the Park after being forced to close in 2012 due to armed conflict. The Park’s visitor accommodation at Mikeno Lodge welcomes new guests seeking to visit one of Africa’s most spectacular protected areas.

Photo credit: Virunga National Park

2015
Matebe Hydro-Electric Plant
Virunga National Park celebrates the inauguration of a new run-of-river hydro-electric plant at Matebe, offering a sustainable, clean and reliable source of electricity to communities for the first time.

Photo credit: Brent Stirton

2017
Smart Grid Technology
The Virunga Alliance rolls out a project using smart grid technology and the Park’s electricity network to offer 22,000 loans to approximately 10,000 small businesses in North Kivu. All loans will be repaid through smart meters.

Photo credit: Brent Stirton

Present Day
Continued Work
The Virunga Alliance continues to promote the use of sustainable energy, agribusiness development, and tourism to bring peace and prosperity to the Congolese people.

Governance

The ICCN (Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature) is a Congolese governmental partner tasked with the protection and conservation of the Virunga National Park. Members of the ICCN are charged with the overall protection of the parks and the endangered mountain gorilla.


The Virunga Foundation is a UK-based charity founded in 2005, created to support the protection of the flora and fauna of the Park, as well as the local communities that live near Virunga’s boundaries. The Foundation holds the management contract for the Park.

Additionally, a U.S.-based charity, Virunga Fund Inc. (VFI), was created in 2007 to support the conservation efforts of Virunga National Park. VFI is a Section 501(c)(3) charitable and educational organization.


La Fondation Virunga Belgique was incorporated in 2015 to support Virunga National Park through fundraising and public outreach.

04

The Mountain Gorillas of Virunga National Park

The world’s entire population of critically endangered mountain gorillas live only in the Virunga Massif and Bwindi, which spans parts of Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda. Virunga National Park is home to around a third of those gorillas, which reside in the dense forests on the lush slopes of the Virunga volcanoes.

Mountain Gorilla Population

The world population of mountain gorillas is currently estimated to be at around 1000 individuals. In Virunga’s southern sector around Bukima, there are currently eight gorilla families and four solitary males which are habituated, meaning that they are accustomed to the presence of humans.


The habituation process is done by researchers and Rangers who visit the gorillas on a daily basis for between two and three years until the gorillas are familiarized with humans.

Habituation is a critical component of gorilla conservation, as it allows for detailed research to be undertaken on the species. This helps to increase understanding of mountain gorilla behaviour, as well as allowing veterinary teams to intervene if gorillas are injured or showing signs of ill health.

1959

450

Estimated mountain gorilla population from a census undertaken in Parc Albert by zoologist George Schaller.

1971

274

Estimated population total from a census undertaken across the Virunga massif, which revealed the number of mountain gorillas had almost halved over a period of 12 years.

1981

254

Estimated population figures revealed a further decline in mountain gorilla numbers in the Virunga massif. Conservation organizations began to collaborate to protect the remaining mountain gorillas.

1989

324

Census data revealed that conservation work had led to an increase in mountain gorilla numbers in the Virunga massif.

2003

380

Increased insecurity in the region prohibited the collection of census data across the Virunga massif between 1989 - 2003. The first census following this period revealed that the population of mountain gorillas had increased, despite the unrest.

2010

786

Census data from Rwandan and DR Congo National Parks along the Virunga Massif revealed a further growth in mountain gorilla numbers.

2017

880

Census data from 2010, combined from a census undertaken in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, indicates a total global population of 880 mountain gorillas.

2018

1000

Censuses for the Virunga Massif and Bwindi have been undertaken. It is estimated that the global population of mountain gorillas now sits at around 1000 individuals.

Mountain Gorilla Conservation

The cold-blooded murder of six members of the Rugendo family on July 22, 2007 was arguably one of Virunga’s darkest hours. This terrible event underscores the need to constantly protect Virunga’s gorillas and other wildlife.


The Park has undergone significant institutional and security reforms since this tragic event and Virunga’s mountain gorilla population is now on the rise.

Beyond these critical reforms, Virunga’s success in recent years is due to its dedicated Ranger force. Park Rangers risk their lives on a daily basis to protect the endangered wildlife and habitats within the Park, as well as the people living around the Park boundary.

Photo credit: Brent Stirton

Photo credit: Brent Stirton

Photo credit: Brent Stirton

Photo credit: Brent Stirton

Photo credit: Brent Stirton

Photo credit: Brent Stirton

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Today, Virunga National Park is home to around a third of the world’s population of wild mountain gorillas, as well as four orphaned gorillas who reside in the Senkwekwe Center, the only facility in the world that cares for mountain gorillas in captivity. Located at Park headquarters in Rumangabo, the Center’s inhabitants were each victims of poachers or animal traffickers as infants.

Abandoned by or taken from their families, the orphans are cared for by the Center’s dedicated staff. The staff’s extraordinary work would not be possible without the help of individuals and organizations from around the world who have stepped up to support conservation efforts in Virunga. Learn more about the Senkwekwe Center orphans, and how you can support their care.

Photo credit: LuAnne Cadd

Andre Bauma is the manager of the Senkwekwe Center and heads up the team of dedicated carers responsible for looking after the Center's orphaned mountain gorillas.

Andre Bauma is the manager of the Senkwekwe Center and heads up the team of dedicated carers responsible for looking after the Center's orphaned mountain gorillas.

There is a bond that ties us together. A relationship that is very, very close between the guardians and the gorillas

Andre Bauma
Manager of the Senkwekwe Centre

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Community Development and Programs

Virunga and its partners are committed to integrating the highest standards of community-based natural resource management by soliciting and incorporating input from the communities living around the Park.

Our Programs

Virunga authorities create and support multiple community forums that regularly consult with the local population to determine conservation and investment priorities.


Virunga National Park also depends on the support from its international community to sustain its vital programs, such as Ranger training, the Fallen Rangers Fund for Widows, and the orphan gorilla Center, all of which deliver benefits to Virunga's employees, local communities and wildlife.

When you choose to support Virunga National Park, your donation not only helps to establish a future for the Park but also provides crucial resources for the Park’s dedicated community whose livelihoods depend on the Park's survival.


This spirit of participatory resource management is at the heart of Virunga’s ambitious peace building program - the Virunga Alliance.

Join the Effort to Protect Virunga National Park

You can make a difference by joining our community of dedicated individuals who aim to protect Africa’s oldest national park and bring peace and prosperity for the four million people who depend on it.