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The Virunga National Park (formerly Albert National Park) lies from the Virunga Mountainsmarker, to the Rwenzori Mountainsmarker, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congomarker, bordering Volcanoes National Parkmarker in Rwandamarker and Rwenzori Mountains National Parkmarker in Uganda. Covering it was established in 1925 as Africa's first national park. It was classified as a World Heritage Site in 1979. In later years it has become known for its mountain gorillas, although poaching and the Congo Civil War have seriously damaged its wildlife population. The park is managed by the Congolese National Park Authorities, the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature or ICCN ( ICCN).

The national park covers the western shores of Lake Edwardmarker, known for its hippopotami (depleted by more than 95 percent in 2006) while elsewhere, marshland, grassland plateau and plains dominate the park. The Ruwenzori Mountains lie on the Ugandan border and rise to alpine meadows and a glacier, while Nyiragongo and Nyamuragiramarker are both active volcanoes with substantial associated lava plains.

Although mountain gorillas are now extremely rare and listed as one of the most critically-endangered species, successful conservation work has helped to secure the remaining populations. Their populations actually increased during the years of political upheaval in the region (1994-2004), but renewed military conflict in the park (October 2008) including the seizing of the park headquarters and expelling of park rangers, poaching, and rampant deforestation for illegal charcoal production once again cast doubt on their future . It is believed that both savanna and forest elephants and chimpanzees can still be found in Virunga, along with Okapi, giraffes, buffalo and many endemic birds. The neighbouring Mount Hoyo area was managed with the park and is home to a population of Bambuti Pygmy people, caves and waterfalls, but since the civil wars, the park has suffered somewhat. Land invasions and intense poaching have challenged the park authorities to the limit, but most rangers have remained active. Since 1994, about 120 rangers have been killed in the line of duty protecting the park from illegal poaching and land acquisition. Amongst other military activity, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda or FDLR has been using the park as a safe location when they have come under sustained attack, such as Laurent Nkunda's offensives against them in April-May 2007. The park was occupied by Nkunda's forces on 26 October 2008, during the Battle of Goma.

See also



References

  1. Hippos Butchered by the Hundreds in Congo Wildlife Park (National Geographic article)
  2. Mark Jenkins: "Who murdered the virunga gorillas?" National Geographic Magazine July 2008
  3. Gorilla Warfare (Newsweek article)
  4. International Crisis Group, Congo: Bringing Peace to North Kivu, Africa Report No.133, 31 October 2007, p.11


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