Unveiling the most diversified Ecosystem in Africa; the Virunga Massif

In geology, a massif is a section of a planet’s crust that is demarcated by faults or flexures. It is a topographically high part of the earth’s crust that is bounded by faults and may be shifted by tectonic movements.

The Virunga Massif is an ecologically homogenous afro-montane forest, covering three contiguous national parks in three countries; Parc National des Virunga (PNVi) in the DR Congo, Parc National des Volcans (PNV) in Rwanda and the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (MGNP) in Uganda. This 447 km wide area is one of the two remaining habitats of the highly endangered mountain gorilla as well as many other endemic and endangered species of flora and fauna.

This great ecosystem was named after the Virunga which is an English version for the Kinyarwanda word ibirunga, which means “volcanoes”.
This great massif contains a chain of 8 volcanoes including some of the most active volcanoes on the continent. The volcanoes are covered with an afro-alpine vegetation of tree ferns and Lobelia and their slopes are covered with dense forests.

The volcano chain is the most dominant land feature in this massif with cliffs and steep eroded valleys. There are 8 volcanoes that spread across the 3 countries of Uganda, Rwanda and D R Congo. This Volcano chain is a branch of the Albertine Rift Mountains that border the western arm of the East African rift valley.

Most of these volcanoes are dormant, except Mt. Nyiragongo (3,462 metres) and Mt. Nyamuragira (3,063 metres) both in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mt. Karisimbi is the highest of all the 8 volcanoes at 4,507 metres while Mt. Sabinyo (3,634 metres) is the oldest of the Virunga volcanoes and forms the border of Uganda, Rwanda and D R Congo. Other volcanoes include; Mt Mikeno, Mt Muhabura, Mt Bisoke, and Mt. Gahinga.

The two most active volcanoes on the continent; Mt. Nyiragongo and Mt. Nyamuragira account for two fifth of the continent’s total eruptions and have registered some of the most tragic yet fascinating eruptions in history with some as more recent as 2010 when Nyiragongo erupted and the fluid lava destroyed people and property in the neighboring area of Goma. Nyiragongo is also known for its stunning lava lake which is the largest and most fluid of its kind in the World.

The eroded varies of the Sinda and Ishango regions provide some of the most fascinating panoramas in the region while the diversity of habitat has facilitated the existence of wildlife biodiversity including both savanna and tropical species. The habitats range from swamps and steppes to lava plains and the savannahs on the slopes of volcanoes.

The Virunga massif has one of the highest wildlife diversity and concentration not only on the continent of Africa but the world at large. The massif has the highest concentration of hippos (about 20,000) in its rivers like Rutshuru and Rwindi. Eastern Low land and Mountain gorillas, forest elephants and buffalos as well as several species of antelopes including the endemic Okapi, all live here.

The Virunga massif shelters over 220 mammal species, 706 bird species, 109 reptile species and 78 amphibian species. It is also a refuge for over 22 primate species including 3 of the great apes; mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei), the eastern plain gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri) and the eastern chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthi), with a third of the world population of mountain gorillas calling it home and the renown destination for gorilla tracking that is Rwanda Uganda and the Congo.

The bird population in this massif is awesome with both local and migrant species that come from as far as Europe and Americas to breed in this rich ecosystem. It is no wonder that the Virunga Massif has the highest diversity of wildlife on the continent of Africa and the only ecosystem where both sub species of the Eastern Gorilla live.

For the wildlife enthusiasts and researchers, you have no more time to wait, for the Virunga massif lies in wait with plenty to offer in terms of wildlife viewing.