virunga national park

Virunga: Africa’s Oldest National Park

Virunga National Park is one of the most special places on the planet. It is Africa’s oldest and most biologically diverse protected area. It's home to more than 2,000 plant species, 706 bird species, and 218 mammal species. It is the only park in the world that harbors three species of great apes, including Chimpanzees, Lowland Gorillas and Mountain Gorillas, and is home to more species of birds, reptiles and mammals than any other protected area on the continent. It is a Key Biodiversity Area, meaning it is a site of global importance to the planet’s overall health and the persistence of biodiversity.

The park is in the North Kivu province in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, a region afflicted by 25 years of armed conflict. In addition to its mandate to protect the national park and the wildlife that lives there, Virunga authorities are also responsible for ensuring the safety and security of the local populations of people that live and travel across the park’s 3,000 square miles.

The park’s principal conservation challenges stem from the protracted war that has afflicted the region. Well-armed militia, poaching rings, illegal charcoal operations, and the encroachment of the protected area by human populations are the principal resulting threats, both to the park and the local communities. More than 200 park rangers have lost their lives protecting the park since the beginning of the first Congolese civil war, many of whom have fallen in the line of duty while providing security to the park’s civilian population.

The Re:wild Solution

Re:wild has teamed up with the European Commission and Virunga National Park in a partnership that aims to restore the park’s ecosystems with a focus on the great apes, and establish the park as the major driver for economic growth, peace and stability in eastern Congo. The project builds on the park’s Virunga Alliance program, which was established to create more than 100,000 jobs to draw people out of the armed militia and into productive society as an innovative approach to peacebuilding. Part of this strategy involves the long-term development of a 105-megawatt renewable energy program, coupled with significant private sector investment in agricultural transformation to alleviate poverty and bring stability to the region.

Matebe network (Photo by Brent Stirton)

The project’s wildlife conservation efforts focus on preventing and reversing the critical decline of certain species. By restoring these populations, the project aims to rewild the park and ensure its ecosystems are healthy.

Other species are also rewilding Virunga. The park recently saw the homecoming of about 580 African Savanna Elephants, thanks to recent and critical conservation efforts in its central savanna. Now the elephants are rewilding the landscape, pummeling invasive plants and transforming it back to a fully functioning grassland, allowing the return of grazers and other wildlife species that have been largely absent from the park for the last two decades.

Virunga Fund

Virunga’s elephants, gorillas, and other wildlife, and the rangers protecting them, need your help. The joyous return of the elephants at these numbers comes during a particularly tough time for Virunga, which has been closed to tourism since March 2020 and, as a result, has struggled to sustain its critical functions. In addition, continued militia activity in the region continues to result in the violent deaths of rangers. All of this while rangers and staff have been managing the impacts of both Ebola and COVID-19 on the park and local communities.

The Virunga Action Fund supports our partners at Virunga National Park at this critical time. With the help of Leonardo DiCaprio and Emerson Collective, along with substantial support from the European Commission, the fund provides urgent support for our partners on the ground to deliver critical disease prevention efforts, law enforcement, and the protection of the iconic and Endangered Mountain Gorilla and Critically Endangered Lowland Gorillas. The fund also supports the families of rangers who have fallen in the line of duty.

One hundred percent of your donations will go toward Virunga’s rangers and the necessary operational costs to ensure they are well supported. Here are some examples of where even small dollar donations can make a big difference:

$8 – A pair of new boots for a ranger

$32 – Funds a ranger for one day (includes family health insurance)

$50 – One month of support for the widow and children of a fallen ranger

$150 – Two weeks of food and supplements for an orphaned gorilla

$500 – One anti-poaching aerial surveillance flight to protect elephants and hippos

$1,000 – A comprehensive sweep and removal of deadly snares in the mountain gorilla habitat

(Top photo by Imaire Depoli, Virunga National Park)

Virunga Park Rangers manning a checkpoint to screen for ebola. Over 1,000 people per day pass through this checkpoint near Beni, the site of an existing Ebola outbreak. Photo was taken Dec 2019. (Photo courtesy of Virunga National Park)


Wild Facts

  • Virunga National Park has played a significant role in preventing the spread of Ebola in the DRC.

  • The park is home to about 1/3 of the world’s population of Endangered gorillas.

  • Virunga was founded in 1925 and was the first national park established on the continent of Africa.

  • Virunga is the only site on earth to have three types of great apes – the Mountain Gorilla, Eastern Lowland Gorilla, and Eastern Chimpanzee.

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There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the interrelated crises of wildlife extinctions, climate change and pandemics. Re:wild works with local and Indigenous communities, conservation partners, governments and others to solve some of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges. Our conservation work in Virunga National Park includes any combination of the following solutions:

protected area management

We work to improve management of protected and conserved areas to ensure a safe and equitable future for biodiversity and local communities.

Wildlife crime prevention

Developing community-led and owned prevention strategies that take into account the societal and cultural drivers of wildlife crime, and implementing systems and technology to stop poachers before a crime is even committed.

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rapid RESCUE

Working with the European Union to rapidly respond to emerging biodiversity threats that require immediate attention or relief in order to prevent catastrophic or irreversible damage to critical ecosystems and wildlife species, and the people who rely on them.

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