If I asked you to name the oldest National Park in Africa I bet you wouldn’t mention Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Most people have heard of the Kruger National Park in South Africa and the Serengeti in Tanzania yet the vast UNESCO World Heritage Site of Virunga has remained under the radar. However, the WWF have just brought the Virunga National Park to global attention following the news that a UK based oil company have expressed an interest in exploring for oil in the oldest national park in Africa.
Established in 1925 by King Albert I of Belgium, Virunga is today home to more than 3,000 animal species living amongst the lush rainforests and ancient volcanoes. The most famous resident is the critically endangered mountain gorilla of which there are around 200 gorillas remaining. In total it’s thought that around 880 remain in Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo.
Located in the east of DR Congo, Virunga also supports elephants, chimpanzees, okapi, giraffes and buffaloes. The park is considered a wildlife treasure and has the most superior biodiversity within any of Africa’s parks – in fact there are more bird, reptile and mammal species in Virunga than anywhere else in Africa! Designated as a UNESCO World heritage Site in 1979, the Virunga National Park covers 7,800 km2 (1,900,000 acres). At the center lies the Nyiragongo Volcano which rises to two miles high and contains a spectacular lava lake.
WWF fears that oil exploration could lead to widespread pollution and irreversible environmental damage. It instead wants to encourage sustainable activities such as fishing, hydropower projects and eventually ecotourism. The emphasis is on ‘eventually’ as tourism has been on hold for quite some time due to local insecurity. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website advises against travel at the present time.
You can learn more and get involved on the official WWF Virunga campaign.
There are further key facts on DR Congo on the BBC which charts the history, geography, people and economy.