Virunga National Park is 7,800 square miles in size and includes forests, savannas, lava plains, swamps,
erosion valleys, active volcanoes and the glaciated peaks of the Rwenzori Mountians.
Here, 25% of the world’s population of Mountain Gorillas live; the only other countries that have these
primates are Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In addition to the Mountain Gorillas, two
other Great Ape species live in the park, the eastern lowland Gorillas and Chimpanzees; making Virunga
the only park in the world to host three taxa of Great Apes. Another prominent inhabitant of the park is
the Okapi, an endangered species that resembles a zebra but is more closely related to the giraffe. In
addition, there are large numbers of Hippos, forest and savanna Elephants, Lions, and numerous rare
The park is divided into three distinct sectors:
The northern sector, which is defined by the Rwenzori Mountains that border Uganda. The
summits are permanently snow-capped; and this melted snow is a primary source of water for
the Nile River.
The Ishasha River Valley, Lake Edward and the Rwindi plains are what defines the second sector.
Lake Edward has over 50 species of fish, as well as many bird species. Here the Hippo
population, is recovering from being endangered….once the largest in the world. The Rwindi
plains contains the highest populations of wildlife such as Elephant, Buffalo, Warthogs and Topi.
The Southern Secotor is best known for the Mountain Gorillas that live on the flanks of the
dormant Mikeno volcano (4,380 meters). This dense forest habitat is ideal for chimpanzees and
numerous species of Monkeys.
Oil was discovered in Virunga National Park a few years ago and this has caused a lot of concern with
regards to the impact of oil exploration. Many unique fragile species are at risk and the government of
Rwanda is presently trying to redefine the borders of the park to allow the oil companies to start
working there. International conservation groups have expressed their concerns; but it does not seem
that things will remain constant in the park for much longer. Another threat to the survival of the park,
is the charcoal industry. Trees are cut down in great numbers throughout Rwanda and all the East
African countries; mostly for the production of charcoal. This industry is now tied into the Gorilla
poaching industry and it is a lethal dependence. Most of the income from poaching seems to be
funneled into the buying guns for the militias that co-exist in Rwanda.