Welcome to Africa’s oldest National Park

Virunga National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site internationally recognized for its exceptional 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 currently protected by a dedicated team of 689 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 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

    218

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

  • Bird Species

    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

    109

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

  • Amphibian Species

    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

    22

    Virunga is the only site on earth to have three types of great apes – the mountain gorilla, eastern lowland gorilla, and eastern chimpanzee.

Explore Virunga National Park

The Park’s 3,000 square miles (7,800 square kilometers) is comprised of four sectors – northern, central,  southern and lake sector – 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.

The History of Virunga National Park

Virunga National Park was founded in 1925 as Albert National Park. 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 limited to three volcanoes in the south, 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
    Virunga’s Rangers are awarded National Geographic Explorer of the Year
  • 2016
  • 2017
    Hippo numbers increase
  • 2018
    All militia groups removed from central sector
  • 2020
    Elephants return to Virunga
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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
    Seven 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: Orlando von Einsiedel
    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: LuAnne Cadd
    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: LuAnna 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.
  • 2014
    Tourism Relaunched
    Marked the end of the M23 war, and tourism is officially relauched in the Park after being forced to close for almost two years. The Park’s visitor accommodation at Mikeno Lodge welcomes new guests seeking to visit Virunga.
  • Photo credit: Virunga National Park
    2015
    Virunga’s Rangers are awarded National Geographic Explorer of the Year
    The UK oil company Soco announces that it will not renew its claim to an oil concession in Virunga National Park.
  • Photo credit: Virunga National Park
    2016
    Hippo numbers increase to over 2000 for the first time in 20 years
  • Photo credit: Adam Keifer
    2017
    Hippo numbers increase
    Hippo numbers increase to over 2000 for the first time in 20 years.
  • 2018
    All militia groups removed from central sector
    The mountain gorilla is taken off the IUCN critically endangered species list, marking a victory for Congolese, Rwandan and Ugandan National Parks.
  • 2020
    Elephants return to Virunga
    The largest herd of elephants – over 500 - since the 1980's are observed in the Ishasha corridor of Virunga. One of Africa’s most spectacular protected areas.
Governance

The ICCN (Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature) is the branch of the Congolese government tasked with the protection and conservation of protected areas in the DRC. Virunga National Park is one of the five UNESCO protected areas that fall under the jurisdiction of the ICCN.

The Virunga Foundation is a UK-based charity founded in 2005, created to support the protection of the flora and fauna of the Park, and to generate benefits for the local communities that live around the national park. The Foundation holds the management contract for the Park, which requires it to restore and manage the national park with ICCN.

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

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 National Park, 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 ten habituated gorilla families and four solitary males which are also habituated, meaning that they are unafraid of human presence.

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 comfortable having people near them. 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.

Photo credit: Brent Stirton
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, Senkwekwe Centre
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Virunga Rangers

689 men and women standing fearlessly to protect Virunga

Learn more about Virunga's Rangers

Fallen Rangers Fund

Photo credit: Brent Stirton

Protecting Virunga's endangered species

Photo credit: LuAnne Cadd