Environment

Virunga National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site that sits on the forest-covered volcanoes of central Africa. Virunga is the continent’s oldest national park and largest tropical rainforest reserve, covering 7,800 sq km, and home to over half the world’s population of mountain gorillas. The park has been repeatedly hit by violence, but still relies on tourism to help fund its conservation efforts. It was closed to visitors in March after experts warned gorillas might be vulnerable to catching Covid-19. This has had a huge impact on conservation efforts. Deforestation is one of Virunga’s biggest threats (Virunga plays an important role in offsetting carbon emissions. The park and plantations in the province are second only to the Amazon in terms of total forest area, according to the WWF). For cooking fuel, 97% of people living near the park rely on charcoal made by chopping down the park’s trees. The practice is illegal. Yet Congo’s charcoal industry is worth an estimated $35 million and helps fund deadly insurgents who hide in Virunga’s forests, according to the Enough Project.