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Kahuzi-Biega National Park
Kahuzi-Biega was given National Park status in 1970 and covers an area of 6000 square kilometres. Two impressive extinct volcanoes: Kahuzi (9,153ft) and Biega (1,085ft) are the highest peaks in the Mitumba Range.
Kahuzi-Biega National Park has some diverse and abundant fauna. But it was primarily created to preserve the important gorilla habitat. It’s here that American Zoologist Dian Fossey began her work with gorillas. And in 1975 the designated park area was increased from 750 to 6000 square kilometres to include the watershed, Luka and Lugulu River tributaries and the connecting belt of mountain valleys.
Surrounded by a very high population density, conservation within the park is a challenge. One of the last groups of eastern lowland (graueri) gorillas (250 individuals form 86% of the total world population) live between 2,100 and 2,400 m above sea-level. But numbers were devastated during the Civil War.
In 1990 there were about 284 mountain gorillas living within 25 families. But since 2004 only 2 families of around 40 individuals have been recorded. Other wildlife resident in the park includes forest elephant, several other sub-species of monkeys and chimpanzees. There are numerous birds also living within the park.
Since 2004 the situation has marginally improved. Although easy access from Bukavu which allowed the support and protection of the park through tourism has not returned to normal. In 1994 refugees and rangers were murdered and animals were killed when Rwanda’s genocidal warfare swamped the area.
Illicit mining of Coltan ore (which produces tantalum used in the production of cell phones) has also increased habitat destruction. So the United Nations Environment Programme request that electronic component manufacturers to use Tantalum which is not illegally produced.
In 1997 UNESCO declared Kahuzi-Biega and 4 other national parks in eastern Congo as ‘World Heritage Sites in Danger’.
Congo national parks with small populations of Mountain Gorillas:
- Virunga National Park - split into 3 sections: north of Kahuzi-Biega, between Lake Kivu and Lake Albert. First established in 1925!
- Maiko N.P. - about 9,000 sq.km. of lowland forest and low mountains, north of Kahuzi-Biega N.P.
Private organizations support the efforts of the United Nations Environment Programme and offer assistance to the local Congolese nature preservation organisation.
Organisations involved in conservation:
- Wildlife Conservation Society - management of research projects and education
- The Gorilla Organization - research projects and assistance in Virunga N.P.
- Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe - research projects and assistance in Kahuzi-Biega N.P.
- Chicago Field Museum - supports local Congolese research and nature preservation institutions
- Woods Hole Research Centre - maps and monitors central African forests.