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The Virunga Massif, sometimes referred to as the Virunga Volcanoes Range or the Virunga Volcanoes Region, spans an area of 450 km2 and borders eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), northwestern Rwanda and southwestern Uganda. This region comprises an outstanding diversity of habitats, including lakes at various altitudes, marshy deltas and peat bogs, savannahs and lava plains, low altitude equatorial forest, high altitude glaciers, and snowfields of the Rwenzori Mountains. The area comprises the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda (163 km2); the Mikeno sector of the southern part of Virunga National Park (DRC; 254 km2), and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (Uganda; 38 km2). Management of these three parks is the responsibility of the Protected Area Authorities (PAAs) in each country; the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN), the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA).
The Virunga Masssif became a TEAM site in 2014 to expand its network of sites in the Congo Basin, Africa. Joined by existing sites at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda; Korup, Cameroon and Nouabale Ndoki, Congo; these sites provide invaluable data on the status of Congo Basin tropical forests and conservation effectiveness in the Congo Basin, the world’s second largest block of tropical forest. Conservation International collaborated with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), a core institutional partner of the TEAM Network, and with their local partner in Rwanda, the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP), to implement the Virunga Massif TEAM site.
The Virunga Massif TEAM site is located in Volcanoes National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. The climate station is located at the bottom of Sabyinyo Volcano in Rwanda, and camera traps and vegetation plots are sampled in the two parks. The site lies in the Albertine rift region, which is characterized by a high degree of avian and mammalian endemism due to its proximity to a pleistocene refugium, created during the last ice age.
Through collaboration with WCS, IGCP has primary responsibility for local implementation of the monitoring activities. IGCP was formed in 1991 with the aim of ensuring the conservation of mountain gorillas and their regional afromontane forest habitat in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The field office is located in Musanze town, Musanze district, Northern Province of Rwanda (lat.0792927; long.9833762).
Rwanda's long rainy season lasts from about March to May, when the rain is heavy and persistent. Then from June to mid-September is the long dry season. October to November is a shorter rainy season and it's followed by a short dry season from December to February. During both of Rwanda's dry seasons, there is often light cloud cover. This helps to moderate the temperatures, but also occasionally brings light rain showers.
The vegetation cover in the Virunga Massif is distributed principally according to altitude, ranging from mixed forests at the lower areas, through bamboo and higher altitude forest types to sub- alpine vegetation and bare rock at the highest altitudes. There is some lower montane forest (now mainly lost to agriculture). Between 1600 and 2500m, there is mixed forest. From 2500m to 2800m Arundinaria alpina (bamboo) forest occurs. From 2800m to 3200m, there is Hagenia-Hypericum woodland characterized by Hypericum revolutum, Hypericum absi and Hagenia abyssinica. From 3200m to 3600m, there is sub-alpine vegetation composed by Philippia johnstonii, Erica Arborea and Giant Lobelia. Above 3,600m, there is alpine vegetation comprising grasses, mosses and lichens, Dendrosenecio and giant lobelia. Between 2300m and 2800m in Mgahinga Gorilla Natonal Park, there are woodland areas of regenerating forest that were cultivated in 1950s. Grassland and swamps occur at various altitudes.
The Virunga massif has a total list of 86 species of mammals out of which 34 are large mammals. There are 18 species of mammals that are endemic, 3 that are near endemic, 6 species that are threatened and 16 that are IUCN listed (Plumptre et al, 2003). This massif is best known for the critically-endangered mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) and the endangered golden monkey (Cercopithecus mitis kandti). Other mammals include: black-fronted duiker (Cephalophus nigrifrons), buffalo (Syncerus caffer), African Golden cat (Carcal aurata), Serval cat (Felis serval), side-stripped jackal (Canis adustus), servaline genet (Genetta servalina), bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus), elephant (Loxondata africana) and spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta). There are 258 recorded bird species, of which 20 species are endemic to the Albertine Rift, and four species are threatened.
The easiest access to the site is on Rwandan side. The Volcanoes National Park’s Headquarters are based in the nearby village of Kinigi, about 2 kilometers from the park. The bustling town of Musanze (formerly called Ruhengeri) is the closest city to Volcanoes National Park and serves as the closest base for many international and local NGOs that work extensively in the park. It takes around two hours driving from Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, to Musanze and 20 minutes driving from Musanze to the park. The roads are paved.