Virunga Mountains Africa

mntngrllBordering the western end of the East African Rift is a chain of mountains that is comprised of many volcanoes, some of which are still active.

Called the Virunga Mountains, they begin north of Lake Kivu in east-central Africa and extend for about 80 kilometres (50 miles) along the borders of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda. Sometimes called Birunga, and also known as the Mufumbiro Mountains, the Virunga Range contains eight volcanoes and three important national parks.

The mountains are probably best known as being the home of the highly endangered Mountain Gorillas. These gorillas became famous thanks to the work of Dian Fossey who founded the Karisoke Research Centre, which studies the gorillas and has an active conservation programme which has the aim of stopping the gorillas from facing extinction. Fortunately, their work has seen gorilla numbers grow in recent years.

The adult males, called Silverbacks because of the colour of the fur as they age, are magnificent creatures which can reach 1.9 metres (6ft 3 in) in height, with an arm span of 2.3 m (7ft 7 in) and weigh as much as 220kg (490lb).

The tallest of the volcanoes, at 4,507 metres (14,787ft) is Mount Karisimbi, which means snow. It is considered to be dormant and the Karisoke Research Centre is located next to it.

The two known active volcanoes are Mount Nyiragongo which, at a height of 3,470 m (11,385ft), is an active stratovolcano with a main crater that is 2kms wide and contains a lava lake. Its last eruption was in 2002 when over 100 people were asphyxiated by the poisonous gases created by the eruption. The other is Mount Nyamurigira which is slightly smaller than Nyiragongo. It last erupted in 2011 but as it is more remote they were no human casualties.

These volcanoes form part of Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. The other important national parks are Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda.

The Virunga National Park is Africa’s oldest, being established in 1925 when the area was under Belgian control. Unfortunately, recent civil unrest has meant that many of the animals have been poached and about 140 park rangers have been killed whilst fighting the poachers. The park is closed to visitors as safety cannot be guaranteed.

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park includes three of the region’s eight volcanoes and a smaller group of mountain gorillas. It is located between both Virunga and Volcanoes National Parks and is really an extension of both.

Tourism is a growing trend in the area, particularly in Rwanda and Uganda, and it is now possible to visit the mountain gorillas and to see the chimpanzees which also reside in the Virunga Mountains.

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