Virunga National Park is located in the east part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was established in April 1925 by the late King of Belgium – King Albert 1, as “Albert National Park”. As the first national park in the African continent, it was created with the primary intention of protecting globally endangered animals like the mountain gorillas living in the Virunga Massif forests.
Due to its outstanding biodiversity and endemic species, the National Park was renowned as a UNESCO World Heritage Site governed by Belgium. The former Belgian King Leopold II ruthlessly seized the African continent on February 5, 1885. He held the Region of Congo as his private possession rather than ruling it as a colony, which led to Congo being controlled by Belgium’s government.
In 1960, the Democratic Republic of Congo gained its independence and renamed the park “Virunga National Park”. However, the state has deteriorated alongside with the National Park due to refugees and rebels filling the Democratic republic with chaos during the Rwanda genocide. The killing of animals, poaching, destroying of infrastructures, cutting of trees, and penetration of the rebels into the Virunga Massif forests were a few examples. Later on, the Congolese Wildlife Authority also lost control, and UNESCO listed the Virunga National Park as a dangerous site.
But due to the tireless efforts of committed lawmakers, environmentalists, and international donors who care deeply about safeguarding the environment, the Virunga National Park was reopened. It is currently under the control of Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN). It is safer and more serene for tourists, and since then, more people have been visiting the National Park again.
Virunga National Park is exceptional, with an active chain of volcanoes and a wide range of habitats that surpass those of any other African park. Among these are Africa’s two most active volcanoes, Nyamuragira and the neighboring Nyiragongo, which together account for two-fifths of the continent’s historical volcanic eruptions and are distinguished by the extremely fluid character of their alkaline lava. The Nyiragongo’s activity is significant on a global scale as a witness to the volcanism of a lava lake. Its crater’s floor is filled with a lake of almost permanent lava, which periodically empties with disastrous effects on nearby towns.
Without seeing the Virunga national park, a Congo Safari vacation is incomplete. Gorilla trekking is one of the main things you can undertake when visiting the Congo. A few additions to the attractions in the region are listed below:
1. Chimpanzees and golden monkeys. These are native to the three parks that make up the Virunga conservation area—Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Mgahinga National Park in Uganda, and Virunga National Park—which are found in Virunga National Park itself. These primates can be seen while hiking in the woodlands and doing nature walks.
2. The Virunga Massif Mountains. Mount Nyiragongo, which has a height of 3,462 meters, and Nyamuragira, which has an altitude of 3,063 meters, are the two active volcanoes that makeup Virunga National Park. These volcanoes provide excellent trekking destinations. It also offers a scenic view, especially in the morning when it’s covered in mist.
3. Bird watching. The Virunga National Park is the ideal place to use binoculars to observe different bird species in their natural habitat. You can also hear the birds’ lovely calls, which makes for an amazing experience. You might see bird species such as the narrow-tailed starling, Madagascar bee-eater, double-toothed barbet, yellow-billed barbet, and grey-throated barbet.
Despite the struggles that the Virunga National Heritage has gone through; from the colonization of the Belgium Government over the years and abuse from the rebels and refugees, the park has managed to thrive back into the limelight with the help of locals and international financial support. Virunga is not only home to its native Gorillas but also to other wildlife habitats such as elephants, lions and so much more. Other than Gorilla trekking, which is a famous activity in the park, there are also various fun and interesting things that you could try when visiting the Virunga National Park.