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Virunga National Park is one of the most biodiverse places in the world and Africa’s oldest park, which is perhaps the most under threat. It is home to three taxa of Great Apes, two bubbling volcanoes, and six dormant volcanoes. It has been Jonathon’s dream to explore the region.
This became reality in October 2017 as Jonathon joined acclaimed conservationist and philanthropist Jochen Zeitz and the extraordinary Chief Warden Emmanuel de Merode, to explore Virunga National Park; the UNESCO World Heritage Site in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, on the border of Uganda and Rwanda.
Virunga – the subject of last year’s Oscar-nominated documentary – is Africa’s oldest national park and is also the continent’s most biologically diverse protected area. See the trailer to the movie below.
Virunga’s 3,000 square miles include forests, savannahs, lava plains, swamps, erosion valleys, active volcanoes, and the glaciated peaks of the Rwenzori mountains. Virunga is also home to about a quarter of the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas. The park’s two other Great Ape species, eastern lowland Grauer’s gorillas and chimpanzees, make 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, along with large colonies of hippopotamus, forest and savannah elephants, lion, and numerous rare bird species.
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Virunga Mountains Top Five
- Time with the mountain gorillas
- A visit to the Senkwekwe Centre, home to gorilla orphans
- A demonstration by the Congo Hounds – the National Park’s highly trained and critical anti poaching unit
- Climbing up the face of Nyiragongo, a beautiful stratovolcano that boasts the world’s largest lava lake
- Sleeping out on top of the volcano
This is a beautiful, active stratovolcano standing 3,470 metres tall, that features the world’s largest lava lake. The volcano’s forested lower slopes are home to a variety of animals including chimpanzees, monkeys and bushbuck. In contrast, Nyiragongo’s summit rim is largely without vegetation and sometimes even dusted with snow.
From the rim, one can peer down into a churning lava lake, seeing and hearing hot gas exploding up though a mosaic of molten lava. It is very predictable and therefore safe for tourists, yet Nyiragongo is greatly feared during eruptions.
Due to the low silica content of its lava, Nyiragongo’s lava flows are extremely fluid and during its 2002 eruption, some of the lava reached speeds of 100 km/hr (62 mph) and travelled all the way to Lake Kivu, some twenty kilometres away.