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    Gorilla trekking trips in Uganda

    Virunga National Park

    Virunga National Park is Africa’s most biodiverse protected area, home to over one thousand species of mammal, bird, reptile, and amphibian as well as 1/3 of the world’s endangered mountain gorillas. Located on the eastern edge of the Congo Basin, the world’s second-largest tropical rainforest, Virunga has become known as the park of fire and ice for its diverse habitats ranging from the Rwenzori peaks to savanna and volcanic plains. Despite being a UNESCO world heritage site, Virunga is constantly threatened by war, poaching and illegal activities as well as unpreventable natural distraction.

    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.

    Explore Virunga National Park

    The Park’s 3,000 square miles (7,800 square kilometers) is comprised of four sectors – northern, central, and southern and Lake Sector – each with an unrivaled diversity of landscapes and ecosystems.

    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 Bwindi 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. When it was first established, Virunga National Park was limited to three volcanoes in the south, but was later expanded northward to include the Bwindi 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.

    Wildlife
    Great apes

    Virunga National Park is the only protected area on Earth that is home to three taxa of great ape: the mountain gorilla, the eastern lowland gorilla, and the eastern chimpanzee. Through conservation efforts, Rangers and Park staff strive to support the growth of their populations, which are threatened by conflict, habitat loss, and poaching, and have wide-ranging ecological benefits for their habitats.

    The Mountain Gorillas of Virunga National Park

    The world’s entire population of endangered mountain gorillas reside between the Virunga Massif and Bwindi Forest, which together span parts of the DRC, Uganda, and Rwanda. The protected montane forests of Virunga National Park are home to more than one third of the global population and saw six newborns in 2022 alone.

    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.

    Researchers and Rangers do the habituation process who visit the gorillas on a daily basis between two to three years until the gorillas are comfortable having people near them. Habituation is a critical component of gorilla conservation, as it allows detailed research to be undertaken on the species. This helps to increase understanding of mountain gorilla behavior, as well as allowing veterinary teams to intervene if gorillas are injured or showing signs of ill health.

    Chimpanzees

    The biggest threat to chimpanzees is human encroachment. Populations survive in isolated pockets across the park, but efforts are underway to expand their savanna and forest habitats.

    The endangered chimpanzee, one of five species of great ape, inhabits the tropical savannas and forests of central and West Africa. It is threatened by the activities of another great ape, one of its closest relatives in the animal kingdom, with whom it shares 98.7% of its DNA – humans.

    African Bush Elephants

    The Park’s population of savanna elephants is at its highest for 30 years. Learn more about these eco-engineers and the benefits they bring to their habitats.

    Hippopotami

    The common hippopotamus was once numerous across Africa. Despite the Park being a stronghold for this semi-aquatic mammal, human threats make conservation efforts crucial.

    Colobus Monkeys

    Unlike other primate species with opposable thumbs, colobus monkeys use their four hook like fingers for grasping branches. Learn more about this monkey’s adaptations

    Okapis

    Okapi are endemic to the tropical forests of the DRC. Once thought to be locally extinct, they have rebounded in the park since their rediscovery in 2006.

    Lions

    Lions of the Ishasha Valley exhibit a specific type of behavior that no other local population is known to replicate.

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