Greater Virunga Landscape

Elephant in Virunga National Park Photo
Despite a decade of civil war and rampant poaching, elephants and other large mammals are still hanging on in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park.
©Deo Kujirakwinja/WCS
Greater Virunga Landscape Photo
The Greater Virunga landscape has a wealth of biodiversity and one of the highest human population densities in Africa, with residents depending on the land around them for food, clean water, and other resources.
©Andy Plumptre

Containing a wildlife-rich network of mountains, lakes, forests, and savannahs, the Greater Virunga landscape has the highest biodiversity of vertebrate species in Africa. Elephants, hippos, lions, myriad birds, and amphibians unique to the region inhabit this lush landscape. It is also home to all of the word's remaining wild mountain gorillas, and also contains Grauer’s gorillas and chimpanzees. Lakes George and Edward support the most productive fisheries in Africa, supporting many people with tilapia and other fish.

The Greater Virunga landscape spans three countries: Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Until recently, the landscape was managed as a series of separate protected areas, including Virunga National Park, Africa’s oldest park, founded in 1925. Cross-border cooperation is now a matter of great urgency, the only way to give the region’s large mammals the wide expanses they need to survive.

Fast Facts

  • A wildly diverse landscape that ranges from steamy papyrus swamps to glaciers and active volcanoes.
  • Shelters more vertebrate species than any other landscape in Africa—and more primate species than anywhere in the world.
  • Home to the last remaining wild populations of mountain gorillas.


The region surrounding Greater Virunga has one of the highest human population densities in Africa. Local residents depend on the land around them for firewood, livestock grazing grounds, medicinal plants, clean water, and fish, so the challenge is to manage human needs in a sustainable way. Devastating wars and years of civil unrest have taken their toll on the region in countless ways. More than 20,000 people and 30,000 cattle have settled Congo’s Virunga National Park in recent years. These new inhabitants threaten the delicate ecosystem that sustains the landscape’s wildlife and human residents. As a result of these pressures, poaching of large mammals is a serious threat and many large mammals have declined in number. About 30,000 hippos--Africa’s largest population--once lived here, but now, only around 5,000 remain.

WCS Responds

WCS worked with the governments of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to develop a strategic plan for the conservation of this rich landscape. The goal is an effectively co-managed, potected area network allowing wildlife numbers to be maintained or increase. WCS is training park authorities in wildlife surveying and monitoring, as well as effective law enforcement. WCS is also supporting transborder collaboration between the countries and reducing conflicts between the parks' staff and surrounding communities so they can successfully protect this diverse ecosystem and the precious mammals that make it their home. Thanks to our efforts and those of our partners, the population of mountain gorillas in some areas has already doubled.

From the Newsroom

New Initiatives in the Congo BasinOctober 1, 2009

Congo Basin heads of state and conservation groups celebrate 10 years of success in saving the world’s second largest rainforest.

New Signs of World’s Least Known GorillaJune 12, 2009

Researchers from WCS find nests made by eastern lowland gorillas outside of their known range in the Itombwe forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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