Virunga National Park is Africa’s oldest park established in 1925 as Albert National Park mainly to protect and conserve mountain gorillas when its borders were marked, under Belgian rule to promote sustainable tourism development. The park was later after independence in 1969 renamed Virunga national park to signify the chain of 8 volcanic mountains including the active Mt. Nyiragongo and Mt. Nyamuragira.
The park was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1979 and protected under the United Nations Ramsar wetland convention. No wonder why Virunga is today’s popular destination for many Africa safari goers seeking remote and untouched jungle experience.
Despite being a global hot spot for biodiversity conservation, parts of Virunga has for long been under siege due to political tensions and rebel activities. The park’s conservation staff have been dying as well as poaching, habitat loss due to encroachment greatly disrupted tourism and conservation.
Attempts to solve poaching and encroachment as challenges to tourism development had been dealt with earlier by the Belgian government. When the ICCN took over management, Virunga National Park started to receive few visitors for gorilla trekking safaris.
However, challenges to conservation and tourism became more apparent, the political system of president Mubutu lost control and civil wars broke out intensifying poaching and encroachment. This raised concerns from conservationists and the Congolese wildlife authority picked received financial and technical support from major conservation organizations and European Union protect the park’s wildlife.
It’s of recent in 2012 when the park rangers regained full control of the park and it’s now a safe tourism destination especially gorilla trekking safaris as well as birding, nature walks, volcano climbing and game drive safaris.
The park has also attracted foreign and local Investments in infrastructure roads, electricity generation, ranger monitoring stations and tourist centers at Rumangabo, Mikeno including lodges and camps has made the park more popularly and accessible for gorilla trekking.