Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo is the oldest national park in Africa and also one of the most endangered. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has suffered tremendous loss of wildlife and land and over 130 rangers have died at the hands of militia since 1996. Virunga is home to approximately 200 of the world’s 880 critically endangered mountain gorillas. The park’s landscape includes two active volcanoes, the largest lava lake in the world, savannahs, Lake Edward, and the 3rd highest mountain peak in Africa, Margherita Peak (5109m) in the Rwenzori mountain range, also known as the “Mountains of the Moon”.
Between 2009 and April 2012, tourism increased significantly, and it appeared that the park was moving forward under the leadership of Warden Emmanuel de Merode. But in April 2012, tourism completely shut down when a newly-formed rebel militia, M23, took key areas surrounding the gorilla sector. In July 2012, the war between the Congolese Army and M23 came right to the doorstep of the park headquarters of Rumangabo. Peace has returned but M23 controls the majority of the southern sector of the park which includes the gorilla and volcano sectors, and tourism remains closed.