Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park is a national park in the Albertine Rift Valley in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was created in 1925 and is among the first protected areas in Africa. In elevation, it ranges from 680 m (2,230 ft) in the Semliki River valley to 5,109 m (16,762 ft) in the Rwenzori Mountains. From north to south it extends about 300 km (190 mi), largely along the international borders with Uganda and Rwanda in the east. It covers an area of 8,090 km2 (3,120 sq mi) and is listed in the List of World Heritage in Danger since 1994.
Two active volcanoes are located in the park, Mount Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira. They have significantly shaped the national park’s diverse habitats and wildlife. More than 3,000 faunal and floral species have been recorded, of which more than 300 are endemic to the Albertine Rift including eastern gorilla (Gorilla beringei) and golden monkey (Cercopithecus kandti).
Virunga National Park is located in the Congo − Nile watershed area. Its northern sector encompasses part of the Semliki River basin, as well as savanna and montane forest of the Albertine Rift. In altitude, this sector ranges from 680 m (2,230 ft) in the Puemba River valley to the highest peak of Mount Stanley at 5,109 m (16,762 ft) within 30 km (19 mi). The national park’s central sector encompasses about two thirds of Lake Edward up to the international border with Uganda in the east. A narrow corridor of 3–5 km (1.9–3.1 mi) width along the lake’s western bank connects the northern and southern sectors of the national park. The southern sector stretches to the shores of Lake Kivu and encompasses Nyamulagira, Nyiragongo and Mikeno volcanoes with montane forests on their slopes.
The northern sector of Virunga National Park is contiguous with Uganda’s Semuliki and Rwenzori Mountains National Parks, and the central sector with Queen Elizabeth National Park. The southern sector borders Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park.
The climate in the Albertine Rift is influenced by the movement of the Intertropical Convergence Zone and the El Niño–Southern Oscillation. March to mid May and September to November are the main rainy seasons. Mean monthly rainfall in the savanna around Lake Edward is 30–40 mm (1.2–1.6 in); this is the driest part of the landscape. The northern sector receives a monthly mean precipitation of up to 220 mm (8.7 in), and the southern sector of up to 160 mm (6.3 in). Average temperatures in lower altitudes vary from 23–28 °C (73–82 °F), and in higher altitudes from 16–24 °C (61–75 °F), rarely dropping below 14 °C (57 °F).
Virunga National Park’s flora encompasses 2,077 plant species, including 264 tree species and 230 plants that are endemic to the Albertine Rift. The plains of Virunga National Park are dominated by wetlands and grasslands with papyrus sedge (Cyperus papyrus), jointed flatsedge (C. articulatus), common reed (Phragmites mauritanica), sacaton grasses (Sporobolus consimilis), ambatch (Aeschynomene elaphroxylon), conkerberry (Carissa spinarum), paperbark thorn (Vachellia sieberiana) and kowai fruit (Coccinia grandis). Remains of dicots such as African caper (Capparis tomentosa), Maerua species, wild cucurbits and nightshades were found in dung balls of African elephants (Loxodonta) that play a significant role for seed dispersal in the grasslands.
The montane forest between 1,800 and 2,800 m (5,900 and 9,200 ft) in the southern sector is dominated by Ficalhoa laurifolia and Podocarpus milanjianus with up to 25 m (82 ft) high trees. African alpine bamboo (Yushania alpina) grows at altitudes of 2,300–2,600 m (7,500–8,500 ft). The vegetation above 2,600 m (8,500 ft) is subalpine with foremost African redwood (Hagenia abyssinica) growing up to 3,000 m (9,800 ft). Tree heath (Erica arborea), heather and mosses cover humid slopes up to 3,700 m (12,100 ft) altitude. Senecio and Lobelia species grow on vast clearings and attain heights of up to 8 m (26 ft).
Virunga National Park’s faunal species include 196 mammals, 706 bird species, 109 reptiles and 65 amphibians as of 2012.
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