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Virunga: Where your heart finds the Heart of Africa

Updated: Sep 22, 2019

In the heart of Africa, a vast volcanic area named Virunga contains almost all the wonders of the Continent.

The name “Virunga” was intentionally chosen after researching local names. Virunga means Volcano in Kinyarwanda, one of the local languages.

This wild space makes the contrast and celestial diversity of Virunga one of the most extraordinary ecosystems and among the most threatened on the planet.

From the roar of active volcanoes, to the silence of the Rwenzori high mountains, where Cathedrals of stones and ice were born from the meeting of two tectonic plates. From carnivorous predators such as lions to the elephants and hippopotamuses, the giant herbivores. From the melodious song of bamboo forests to the busyness of the savannah. From immemorial mammals like giraffes up to the smallest chameleons.

Between these two extremes of the park, Nyiragongo and Rwenzori, winding and long savannas are traveled by herds of herbivores and detailed by forests occupied by the last mountain gorillas.

At Virunga, the oldest park in Africa, all the exceptional species of the continent can be spotted in one place. Classified as one of the World Heritages of Humanity— protecting it has been a fight from the very beginning.

The fact that it is located in the deep heart of Africa means the park spans across three countries i.e Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. Because of issues with translation, don’t be surprised when they call it Volcano National Park in Rwanda or the Mgahinga National Park in Uganda .

Crossed by the equator and located in the region of the great lakes, it is one of the most fertile lands of our planet. The reflected green vegetal carpet amazes any tourist looking to explore the real African jungle.

The whole chain of Virunga volcanoes includes six dormant volcanoes out of the total eight, but the gigantic panache, that escapes continuously from Nyiragongo, leaves no doubt that there are many surprises in the future. This is exactly where your heart will find the heart of Africa.

Nyiragongo reveals the most fascinating spectacle of the planet

Nyiragongo Volcano, 7 miles from the Rwanda border edge, is currently active. Its perched summit (at more than 3400 meters of altitude) has a deep crater saturated by

the smoke. To stay near Nyiragongo, visitors settle at the top to spend the night one meter away from the hole edge. Everyone must wait for the sunset, because this is when Nyiragongo reveals the most fascinating spectacle of the planet: the largest lava- lake in the world.

A gigantic bowl of molten magma, rising directly from the bowels of the earth. The wells of gas come regularly, projecting arches, bubbling at nearly 30 meters high. The next morning, the wind sweeps mist vapor little by little, so the sumptuous spectacle of Virunga Park (seen from above) becomes clear. Lake Kivu and the city of Goma, which were hit by the last lava flow during the eruption in 2002, can be distinguished from afar.

Each forest environment is home to its own tribes of monkeys.

Nyiragongo is both a misfortune and a blessing for the region. For hundreds of thousands of years, Virunga volcanoes have shaped and enriched the surrounding soil for the greater benefit of people and nature.

Fertilized by lava and volcanic ash, the forests line the flanks of volcanoes. The park landscape varies between 800 and 1500 meters in altitude, which has created a wide diversity of climates and environments which gave birth to forest biotopes—incredibly varied with a vegetable and animal species. Each forest environment is home to its own tribes of monkeys.

In Virunga, there are 22 different species. The grivets, baboons, colobus or “white-tie” monkeys, and “Diademic” cercopites, called golden monkeys, circulate from tree to tree in completely wooded environments. The three small hills of Tongo are covered with a 300-year-old forest that has grown on volcanic soil. A group of chimpanzees are settled there, another species of primates also from the same family as humans.

But the King of Virunga is more discreet

But the King of the Virunga National Park lives higher (between 2200 and 4000 meters of altitude) in the forests of the mountains or the bamboo forests, which are also known as the “forests of the clouds.” In these mists, there are 800 remaining mountain gorillas, whereas in the 1980s scientists predicted their impending extinction. Often grouped in families, each one headed by a dominant male commonly called the Silver- Back, they might be a good human role model in terms of family organization. When there is a new birth, the baby begins to walk on their feet in 6 months. Their mother watches them jealously and none of the other gorillas has the right to touch them until their first birthday, and their mothers will continue to breast-feed and carry them for years.

The current silverbacks are more than 30 years old, they have gone through wars, looting, poaching, and many of their relatives have been killed. In spite of these difficulties and thanks to the protection of the park, the number of gorillas has doubled in the DR Congo within the last 30 years.

Rwenzori, the mountain of the moon

They are called mountains of the moon. Sometimes very clear in the night, but most of the time, they hide in the clouds. The Rwenzori Massif is located in the North of the Park, on the fringes with Uganda. Elevated to 5119 meters, the daisy peak, and the highest point of Virunga, is the third highest peak of Africa. The ice is far from being eternal, but it has covered 1625 acres in the past century; today, the ice covers less than 250 acres. Its springs flow up from its dimensions to feed the Nile River, but before joining it, they begin to refresh a crowd of animals in the Virunga by creating great sub-rivers like Semliki, Rwindi, Rutshuru, Ishasha.

The Virunga may well become one of the last refuges of lions, because they are now on the list of threatened species. In Africa, only 20000 remain and the Rwenzori plains hosts the big number include the migrant from Eat African Savana, victim of the cattle keepers poison.

Listed among the top destinations in the world.

Today, tourism progresses in Virunga, after the years of violence and wars. The remarkable biodiversity growth in the park can likely be associated with the fruits of its preservation. A third of tourism income is invested in the construction of schools, hospitals, and a recent electrical power station. That makes Virunga one of the few electrified wildlife in Africa. Last year the park has been mentioned on CNN list among the 26 most popular destinations in the world.

The tourists who visit Virunga predict a shining future; their stays are made possible by the sacrifices of the rangers. Complementarily, their money contributes to help in protecting one of the most threatened and richest parks of our planet.

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