Rehabilitating Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park is the oldest and most biodiverse national park in Africa. It was the first African protected area listed as a UNESCO natural World Heritage Site, but as a result of civil conflict was re-listed as a World Heritage Site in Danger in 1994. ZSL has been working since 2001 to rebuild the capacity of the Congolese conservation authority, ICCN, to restore the long-term integrity of the park.
Unique but threatened
Virunga National Park, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), contains the greatest range of habitats and the highest diversity of vertebrate species of any protected area in Africa. Sadly this breathtaking area has suffered dramatically from the effects of civil war and uncontrolled exploitation of its fragile natural resources.
Conservation in DRC has been severely constrained by three successive decades of dictatorial rule, economic collapse and armed conflict. Virunga National Park lies in the North Kivu province of eastern DRC, which has had to cope with an influx of nearly 2 million refugees. As a result, the park limits have been eroded, permanent settlements (of fishermen, pastoralists and agriculturalists) within the park have increased, and the military have set up camps. This has led to widespread deforestation and poaching.
While the national conservation authority – the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN) - has remained committed to the park's conservation, its capacity to manage the park has been limited. During the 1996-2003 civil wars over 100 park rangers were killed, the northern and central sectors of the park were abandoned and most staff went unpaid, lacked the means to patrol, suffered from low morale and had little technical support or training.
Working to protect and rebuild
Since 2001, ZSL has been committed to assisting ICCN, through funds from the UK government’s Darwin Initiative, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, UNESCO, Wildlife Direct, the Mohammed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund and the European Union.
We have been working on the ground to help rebuild the management structure of this important area and protect it from further degradation. Our key activities include supporting rangers and patrols along with training park staff in important roles such as wildlife monitoring. A current focus is on the conservation of a newly-discovered population of the elusive okapi in the northern part of Virunga National Park.
ZSL collaborates with many partners, including the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) and Africa Conservation Fund (ACF).Through the combined efforts of NGOs, ICCN and other partners, we hope that the integrity of Virunga National Park can be restored. The park’s biological riches can make a vital economic contribution to development and positive results from conservation efforts are beginning to emerge.
Take a look at our Okapi blog for more from the field in Virunga
Learn more about ZSL's work in and around the Virunga National Park by downloading our infosheet Building conservation capacity in DRC (English) (1.7 MB) or Building conservation capacity in DRC (French) (431 KB)
Learn about ZSL's previous work across DRC's five World Heritage Sites by downloading the Conservation, training and monitoring in DRC information sheet (1.9 MB)