Environmental Programme around Virunga (PEVi)

A tree plantation near Virunga, realized through WWF's EcoMakala project
© Hicham Daoudi/WWF-DRC


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

It has the greatest diversity of natural habitats among all African parks: there are savannahs, lava plains, swamps, lowland forests, mountains and two active volcanoes. The snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains rise to over 5,000m.

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.


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


The EcoMakala project aims to satisfy the energy needs of rural populations around Virunga, by producing charcoal (makala in local language Swahili) 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.

Over 20 million trees have been planted so far. The associated improved stoves project is popularizing energy-efficient stoves, reducing charcoal consumption. This reduces the need for wood, with a resulting reduction in CO2 emissions.

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


1. Population pressure and encroachment on the park

2. Armed conflicts

3. Population movements

4. Demand for fuelwood

5. Poaching

6. Deforestation.


In recent years, WWF has been a vocal leader against oil exploration and exploitation in Virunga. In 2013, we secured a commitment from French company TOTAL not to drill in the park or any other World Heritage Sites.

Next came the Save Virunga Campaign against British-registered SOCO, which was exploring for oil around Lake Edward – an exceptional area of the park, which provides water, food and revenues to more than 45.000 people. We engaged with governments, donors and the financial sector, and worked very closely with the Congolese civil society, supporting them in their information gathering efforts and strong lobbying against SOCO. Worldwide, our campaign raised more than 750,000 signatures.

In October 2013, we filed a complaint against SOCO with OECD in the UK. This resulted in SOCO’s commitment “not to undertake or commission any exploratory or other drilling within Virunga National Park unless UNESCO and the DRC government agree that such activities are not incompatible with its World Heritage status.”

This was a very important step to prevent SOCO from pursuing oil exploration in Virunga, but we remain vigilant. We continue our work to rally all stakeholders to the support of an oil-free, sustainable development pathway for Virunga, in order to safeguard its amazing biodiversity and the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people.