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Eastern Programme

© Victoire Batumike/WWF DRC

The Virunga area has the greatest diversity of natural habitats among all African parks. We find savannahs, lava plains, swamps, lowland forests, mountains and two active volcanoes. The snow-capped Ruwenzori Mountains rise to over 5,000m.

Created in 1925, Virunga is Africa’s oldest national park. It covers an area of 7,900km2, and is both a World Heritage Site and a Ramsar Site.

© naturepl.com/Jabruson

Environment Programme around Virunga

These habitats are home to a rich biodiversity, with 700 bird species and 200 mammal species including rare and endangered animals such as the mountain gorilla. Virunga is the only park in the world to host three taxa of great apes: Eastern lowland gorilla, mountain gorilla and chimpanzee.

The integrity of the park has been threatened for decades by the chronic instability in the region. WWF has 3 key objectives:

1. Restore and maintain the integrity of the Virunga National Park
2. Find alternative solutions to deforestation
3. Ensure environmental education.

WWF has developed the EcoMakala project to contribute in preserving the Virunga National Park and surroundings. The EcoMakala project aims to satisfy the energy needs of rural populations around Virunga, by producing charcoal (makala in local Swahili language ) sustainably.

Traditionally, people enter the park in order to harvest wood and transform it into charcoal. The EcoMakala project has helped taking pressure off the natural forests by planting fast-growing trees in woodlots, thus giving local populations an alternative fuel source.

The Virunga programme is also active in implementing land-use plans and managing community forests in collaboration with other WWF partners.

This region has a rich biodiversity representative of Central Africa. WWF has played a significant role in setting the boundaries of the Itombwe Nature Reserve (NIR) recognized by a provincial decree issued on June 20, 2016.

© naturepl.com/Eric Baccega

Itombwe Nature Reserve

WWF also operates in Itombwe, located in South Kivu Province and part of the Tayna-Itombwe-Kahuzi Biega landscape. 

The Itombwe Nature Reserve is an important reservoir for endangered species such as  eastern plains gorillas (Gorilla beringei graueri). It is also characterized by humid mountain forests (at 3000 m altitude), bamboo forests and salinas (malambos), places where animals linger to get mineral supply and also used by some mammals as maternities.

Located in the southern part of the Maiko-Taina-Kahuzi-Biega landscape, the Itombwe forest is the largest and most remote block of intact montane forest in Africa. It has a large number of eastern lowland gorillas and eastern chimpanzees, as well as forest elephants and other endemic species.

The Itombwe Nature Reserve, a large forest block in the Albertine Rift which is an important habitat for great apes, was created in October 2006. But its boundaries and management were not clearly defined, leading to different interpretations and even conflicts between the various stakeholders. Local communities want to see part of it classified as a community forest. 

Since the creation of the reserve, the WWF’s Itombwe conservation project has worked with partners including local communities to define conservation and management structures for the forest. The long-term goal is to ensure the protection of biodiversity and the Itombwe Nature Reserve with the support of local communities and indigenous peoples.

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