The astonishingly diverse landscape of Congo's Virunga National Park

2021-03-03 12:05:20
The astonishingly diverse landscape of Congo's Virunga National Park

The Virunga National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is Africa's oldest and largest national park, spanning 7,800 sq km (3,000 sq miles) and home to an astonishingly diverse landscape.

The park’s diverse habitats and wildlife includes everything from active volcanoes and vast lakes to rainforest and mountains.

The park was set up nearly 100 years ago to protect mountain gorillas, whose numbers have increased over the past decade, though there are still only 1,000 left in the world.

However, protecting these forests could be described as one of the toughest jobs on the planet.

DR Congo's natural resources have been fought over for decades. It's estimated that a dozen or so armed militia groups survive off the park's resources - poaching or chopping down wood to sell for fuel.

The Central African nation, which is about the size of western Europe, has more mineral wealth than anywhere else on the planet. It has 70 percent of the world's coltan, a third of its cobalt, more than 30 percent of its diamond reserves, and 10 percent of its copper.

These are some of the elements essential to modern technology, making up key components in electric cars and smartphones.

Emmanuel de Merode, the park’s director, looks to neighbouring Rwanda and its pre-pandemic success in attracting tourism worth over $500 million a year. In Kenya it is an industry worth around $3.5 billion.

"Tourism isn't a game we are playing, it's a strategic industry. We need to look at ways of generating wealth without damaging the park." de Merode says.

The strategy is starting to pay off in unexpected ways. Increased tourism in Virunga has helped the park attract investment for other projects.

One scheme takes advantage of the park's high rainfall and fast-flowing rivers to produce hydroelectricity - allowing some rebels to swap their guns for a steady income.

"With every megawatt of electricity that we're able to generate through these hydroelectric programmes, we're able to create between 800 and 1,000 jobs, de Merode says.

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