Supporting management of DRC's Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park is the oldest national park in Africa and contains the greatest range of habitats and highest vertebrate species diversity of any of the continent's protected areas. It was also the first African protected area to be listed as a UNESCO natural World Heritage Site, but due to ongoing civil conflict in the region it was relisted as a World Heritage Site in Danger in 1994.
Conservation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been severely constrained by three successive decades of dictatorial rule, economic collapse and armed conflict. Virunga National Park is situated in eastern DRC in North Kivu province, which has had to cope with an influx of nearly 2 million refugees. As a result, the park limits have been eroded, permanent settlements (fisheries, pastoralists, agriculturalists) within the park have increased, and the military have set up camps. This has led to massive deforestation and poaching.
While the national wildlife authority – the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN) - has remained committed to the park's conservation, its management capacity has been severely hampered. 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.
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 and our major donor, the European Union.
ZSL collaborates in DRC with many partners, including the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) and African Conservation Fund (ACF).
Our key activities in Virunga National Park include rehabilitating infrastructure, supporting rangers and patrols and training park staff, particularly in wildlife monitoring. Current work has a focus on the conservation of a newly-discovered population of little-known okapi (the closest known relative of the giraffe) in the forests of the northern sector of Virunga National Park. A report of recent survey work can be downloaded here: ZSL Conservation Report 9: Okapi Report (1.8 MB)
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.
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)