Virunga National Park or Parc National des Virunga is one of the
most famous national parks in Congo. Virunga National Park that was
formerly known as Albert National Park covers an area of 10,830 km².
It protects mountain jungles of Virunga and Rwenzori Mountain ranges
as well as vast stretches of savannah. It is famous for a rich
diversity of species, but its most famous resident are scores of
gorillas that live here in family groups. This ape suffered years of
relentless hunting so this park is one of the few places in the
World where you can see these animals in the wild.
On October 17, 1902, Oscar von Bering, the captain
of the German army in German East Africa, shot a large gorilla while
hunting in the vicinity of Sabinio peak. Prior to this, it was
believed that the gorilla range is limited only to the region in
West Africa, near the coast of the Gulf of Guinea, therefore, given
the distance of Virung from the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, Oscar
von Beringe suggested that the monkey killed by him might belong to
a new species of gorillas unknown to science and sent a skeleton
animal scientists in Germany. The German anatomists, collecting the
resulting gorilla skeleton and comparing it with the skeleton of the
famous western coastal gorilla, found 34 morphological differences
In 1903, mammalian researcher Paul Matschie
described a new subspecies of gorilla named after its discoverer
Gorilla gorilla beringei, the gorilla bering.
for almost 20 years, no one was engaged in the study of gorillas in
the Virunga Mountains. This was due to the uncertain political
status of this territory: in the late XIX - early XX centuries,
three European powers immediately claimed rights to it: Belgium,
Great Britain and Germany. The final demarcation of the colonial
borders in the Virunga mountains was carried out only in 1910.
Further research activity was hindered by the First World War.
After the war ended, the northwestern part of the GVA
(Rwanda-Urundi) came under the control of Belgium. For 40 years,
most of the territory of the Virunga Mountains was under the control
of one state.
In 1921, an expedition led by renowned American
naturalist, sculptor and taxidermist Carl Akeley was organized by
the American Museum of Natural History in the Virunga Mountains.
Among other things, Aykley’s task was to shoot several monkeys and
make them stuffed for the museum. Ackley coped with this task and
obtained five gorillas, making them magnificent stuffed animals, but
the main result of his expedition was different. Tracking mountain
gorillas for several months and observing their life in foggy
mountain forests, Karl Eyckley was the first to establish that
eastern gorillas live in stable family groups with an average of 10
individuals, each consisting of one adult male, several adult
females, and their offspring. He especially noted very strong bonds
in groups of gorillas, which potentially makes it very difficult to
catch monkeys to transfer them to zoos: when one animal is caught,
the whole family comes to the rescue, so the catchers will have to
kill his relatives. Aykley also determined that the density of the
eastern gorillas is very low, and the entire subspecies range in the
Virunga area is very small in area and represents the slopes of six
volcanoes - a stretch of about 40 and a width of 3 to 19 km. The
main conclusion reached by Aikley as a result of the expedition was
that these beautiful and very rare animals should be saved in the
wild, and not stuffed animals and exhibits of zoos should be made of
In 1925, Aikley arrived in Belgium with the aim of
attracting the attention of the government of this country to the
problem of the conservation of mountain gorillas in their natural
habitat. He managed to convince King Albert I that the most
effective way to save these rare animals would be to organize a
conservation area throughout Virung. So in Africa appeared the first
biosphere reserve - Alberta National Park. Aykli personally outlined
the boundaries of the reserve, including in it the entire territory
of the habitat of gorillas.
In the spring of 1926, Ackley
embarks on a new expedition to the Virunga Mountains, hoping to
study in more detail the gorillas and other representatives of the
animal world of the newly created national park. However, Karl did
not succeed in fulfilling his plan, since in the fall of that year
he fell ill and died on November 18 in a small village on the
outskirts of the gorilla reserve he created. When dying, Karl Aykley
bequeathed to bury him there, on the “meadows of Cabaret” (the slope
of the Myceno volcano), in his opinion, a beautiful and quiet place
in the world.
In 1960, the Democratic Republic of the Congo
gained independence. In 1962, Rwanda gained independence. The
National Park was renamed Kivu, and in 1969, the unified
conservation facility was divided into the Virunga National Park (in
Zaire) and the Volcanoes National Park (in Rwanda).