The Virunga Mountains are a chain of volcanoes, located between Lake Edward and Lake Kivu. along the northern border of Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Uganda. The mountain range is a branch of the Albertine Rift, a part of the Great Rift Valley.

The mountain range consists of eight major volcanoes. Most of them are dormant, except Mount Nyiragongo 3,462 m (11,358 ft) and Mount Nyamuragira 3,063 m (10,049 ft), both in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Recent eruptions occurred in 2006, and in January, 2010. Mount Karisimbi at 4,507 m (14,787 ft), is the highest volcano. The oldest mountain is Mount Sabyinyo which rises 3,634 m (11,923 ft), above sea level.

The park was first gazetted in 1925, as a small area bounded by Karisimbi, Visoke and Mikeno, intended to protect the gorillas from poachers. Subsequently, in 1929, the borders of the park were extended further into Rwanda and into the Belgian Congo, to form the Albert National Park, a huge area of 8090 kmĀ², run by the Belgian colonial authorities who were in charge of both colonies.

Today, transecting the frontiers of Uganda, Rwanda and Congo, the cross-border conservation area is a model of eco-tourism and how it can be used to ensure the survival of endangered wildlife.

The Virungas are where the famous American naturalist Dian Fossey carried out her research into Mountain gorillas. She arrived in 1967 and from then on she spent most of her time in the park, and is widely credited with saving the gorillas from extinction by bringing their plight to the attention of the international community. She was murdered by unknown assailants at her home in 1985, a crime often attributed to the poachers she had spent her life fighting against. Fossey’s life later was portrayed on the big screen in the film Gorillas in the Mist, named after her autobiography. She is buried in the park in a grave close to the research center, and amongst the gorillas which became her life.

National Parks in the Virungas

  • Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda
  • Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda