A Short Visit to Virunga (Nov 2015)

As a guide who spends most of his time in the classic savannahs of Tanzania in some of the world’s most wildlife rich national parks, the DRC offers a very contrasting but equally stimulating experience
A few iphone photos of the incredible vegetation on Nyiragongo.
There are few places in the world with as spectacular and diverse landscapes, habitats, and wildlife as Virunga National Park. Laid out along 300km of the western arm of Africa’s Great Rift Valley, it spreads from Lake Kivu through volcano fields (two of them still active), past Lake Edward and the equator, past the glacier-covered Mountains of the Moon, and ends eventually in the  Semliki valley to the north. Such diverse geography lends itself naturally to diverse habitats home to an incredible variety of mammals, birdlife, and other lifeforms.

Among the incredible life forms are these Boulenger's pygmy chameleons. A rare and special find.

Ascending Nyiragongo.
Getting up at night to watch the lava lake bubble and dawn arrive.
From a geological perspective, Virunga’s features are all very recent additions. 30 million years ago, pressure underneath the African continent caused by a series of plumes of magma forced it to bulge and effectively crack spreading southward from the Red Sea as far as Mozambique. As the rifting spread south, it reached a particularly resistant rock formation known as the Tanganyika Craton where it diverged into two arms forming what is now known as the Albertine (western) Rift and Gregory (eastern) Rift. It wasn’t until 12-13 million years ago that the first volcanoes began erupting in the Virunga region, although the 8 most prominent peaks are all younger than 2.5 million years old. Two of the 8 are still active to this day.  The other six are no longer active and their forested slopes are home to some of the last remaining Mountain gorillas (Gorilla berengei berengei). These large and gentle primates complete the montage of charismatic African wildlife and complement the East African savannah experience.

This short time lapse of Nyiragongo's lava lake in the morning shows its mesmerizing power.

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Critically Endangered, there is an estimated population of 480 individuals and growing found in the three national parks that encompass the Virunga Massif (Bwindi National Park in Uganda is also home to a population of about 300). The area that the Mountain gorillas occupy is a very small range of about 450 km2 in the montane and bamboo forests of the Virungas. At present there are 8 habituated gorilla groups in Virunga National Park.

Below short video clip of a young gorilla.
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All of these photos and videos are on Instagram @tembomdogo and higher quality.